Panel for SEM 2010 on music in “total” institution

“Music in ‘Total’ Institutions”

  • Benjamin J. Harbert, “Blood in My Eyes: The Inspiring Principles of Musicians at Louisiana’s Hunt Prison”

  • Anita Høyvik, “How to Prescribe a Healthy Listening? Music Listening in Terms of Medical Efficacy at Rivington House”

  • Jennifer A. Woodruff, “‘Girl, you nasty!’: Policing the Boundaries between Inappropriate Dancing and Moral Character”

  • Tyler Bickford, “Musical Consumerism in School: Expressive Negotiations of Institutional Authority During Classroom Lessons at a Vermont Elementary School”

Abstracts below the jump.

“Music in ‘Total’ Institutions”

This panel considers musical practices in four non-musical institutions in the U.S.: a Louisiana prison, a New York City residence for people living with AIDS, a Durham, N.C., Boys and Girls Club, and a Vermont elementary school. Each of these sites fits on a spectrum of what Goffman calls “total” institutions, which voraciously claim authority over all aspects of their subjects’ lives. These institutions are intimately organized around their subjects’ totalizing identities as children, prisoners, and the chronically ill and indigent, which locate individuals in problematic relationship to “human rights.” The papers in this panel identify musical practices and expressivity—cultural fields often seen as outside the normal reaches of governmental or institutional authority—as central sites in negotiating the boundaries between individuals and institutions. In prison, inmates’ music is balanced between politics and catharsis; medicine claims particular access to AIDS patients’ emotions and affect through discourses of “healing”; girls’ dancing bodies become central to an after-school club’s justification to funding agencies; and schoolchildren’s everyday vocalizations negotiate the pedagogical authority of teachers. In each of these cases music is an intimate resource with uncertain potential: it affords individual expression and affiliation, but it may also provide an anchor for these institutions to discipline their subjects’ private lives. Identifying “total” institutions as important sites of ethnomusicological inquiry, these papers reorient a perspective on cultural politics toward the interactions and routines of everyday life, where expressive practices are constitutive of individual rights and identities in institutional and bureaucratically structured environments.

Tyler Bickford, “Musical Consumerism in School: Expressive Negotiations of Institutional Authority During Classroom Lessons at a Vermont Elementary School”

With children’s increasing access to portable devices like MP3 players, the widespread installation of Internet terminals in schools, and educators’ progressive turn toward corporate-produced “edutainment” for lessons, over the last generation U.S. elementary schools have become a central location for children’s media consumption. Traditionally understood as community spaces that shelter vulnerable children from dangerous public environments, with this shift schools increasingly confront a vision of children as an emerging public of legitimate, active, and independent participants in consumer society with increasing demographic and market influence. This paper considers how this tension emerges in everyday musical interactions between students and teachers at a small rural primary school in Vermont. Students at this school would often vocalize melodies, sound effects, and fragments of popular and silly songs from recorded music, television, the Internet, and video games to disrupt, comment on, or shift the social frame of the lesson. Such moments reveal distinct stylistic, textual, and generic differences between the interactional modalities of musical media consumption and the communicative and expressive modalities with which primary education is especially concerned to cultivate and discipline among children. Because elementary school’s pedagogical emphasis on literacy and communication already privileges expressivity as a field of social action, repertoires from musical media provide a powerful resource for children to engage adults on equal terrain. As they command expressive repertoires from both education and entertainment, children negotiate contrasting visions of childhood from media and school, setting empowered consumerism in dynamic tension with bureaucratic constructions of passive, sheltered childhoods.