Music scholarship has widened enormously in scope in the last several decades, especially in response to developments in sociology and cultural studies. Previously accepted concepts such as excellence, authenticity and value have become understood as social constructions rather than inherent or aesthetically autonomous. As a result, long-established canons have been questioned and the boundary between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture become less secure, with questions of aesthetics becoming intertwined with questions of politics and identity.
The work of Simon Frith has played a significant role in these developments. His own career, starting in historical sociology and, in turn, based in departments of Sociology, English, Film and Media Studies and, finally, Music, reflects the increasingly inter-disciplinary nature of contemporary music scholarship. Furthermore, his parallel career as a journalist, critic and chair of the Mercury Music Prize poses interesting questions concerning the relationship between sociology and criticism, and between the academic study of music and the general audience.
This conference seeks to celebrate Frith’s contributions to the study of music and to evaluate and critique current orthodoxies in music scholarship (including Frith’s own work): Is the relationship between musicology and sociology still problematic? Has popular music studies managed to develop a convincing and coherent theoretical approach? Is ‘popular music’ still a useful academic category? What new problems has a sociological approach to music generated? Is the study of music still Eurocentric and Anglicised? Does the idea of quality have any role in the sociological study of music?
There will be Keynote Presentations by Robert Christgau and Beverley Diamond. The conference organising committee is comprised of Matt Brennan, Sara Cohen, Dave Laing, Lee Marshall and Peter Nelson.