Beginning at the beginning: towards a trans-actional music sociology

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Music sociology has proven a fertile arena for the study and theorisation of object-subject interaction, with the work of scholars such as Tia DeNora and Antoine Hennion marking its key contribution to the ‘new sociology of art’. Recent years have, however, witnessed no little debate amongst music sociologists about the broader purchase and value of such scholarship, especially considering its apparent challenge to Bourdieu’s critical cultural sociology.. This article seeks to contribute to debates in this area by advocating a novel approach to questions about music’s relation to the social, one that seeks less to map the social distribution of taste profiles or explore how listeners make use of music’s affordances than understand the variable ways in which music emerges as something to be attended to (or not) in the first place. Drawing on recent work in relational sociology, the mature philosophy of pragmatist John Dewey as well as new materialist thought, this article explores the potential of a trans-actional prospectus for music sociology. This is an approach that advocates a ‘flat’ social ontology in order to focus on questions about the constitution and configuration of musical events. In so doing, the article argues that if we are to gain a better understanding of music’s varied relation to the social, it is necessary to transcend the residual substantialism implicit in ‘new sociology’ and mediation-focussed accounts and adopt an approach capable of integrating concerns of object-ness, emergence and attention with questions of power and inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-23
Number of pages21
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date2 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • music
  • listening
  • relational
  • trans-action
  • Bourdieu

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