Aesthetics, Popular Music, and Subcultures
edited by Stefano Marino, Giovanni Mugnaini, and Anna Scalfaro
The history of the relation between Popular Culture and the philosophical discipline of Aesthetics has often been a history of one-sided mistrust and suspicion. For various reasons and via different means (be they ideological, social, rhetorical, etc.), the popular dimension of human culture has been kept away from serious philosophical attention, especially in the modern age: namely, in the age in which the discipline of Aesthetics was officially “baptized”. In fact, tightly knotted with its popular roots and destination, Popular Culture has often been accused to exhibit various features (appearances, superficiality, distraction, standardization, ephemerality, etc.) that are suspected to steer away one’s attention from supposedly more serious, real, true or important things. Aesthetics, since its foundation as a specific branch of Philosophy, has often aimed to define the necessary conditions and the exact characteristics of dimensions such as beauty, judgments of taste, aesthetic experience, and especially art (i.e., what is worthy to be included in the special category of “true” works of art and what is not). From this point of view, Aesthetics has often provided classifications of the various arts, in which popular forms of art have been frequently devalued and defined as “low”, in comparison to a narrow group of arts that have been typically evaluated as “high”. However, from the early 20th century until today – and especially after the advent and the expansion of the various poetics of Pop in visual arts, literature, music, architecture, design, and other fields – the dividing walls of the “Artworld” have often crumbled, the museums’ doors have often been open to include works that once would have never been accepted, and the seemingly unbridgeable gap between “high” and “low” products has often been filled. Among other things, this has partially contributed to establish a more favorable attitude in the field of Aesthetics towards philosophical reflections on Popular Culture.
Among the various forms of Popular Culture, Popular Music has been especially devalued in the context of contemporary Aesthetics. This is testified, for example, by Theodor W. Adorno’s famous critique of Popular Music’s supposed totally standardized and pseudo-individualized character in On Popular Music (1941) or, more recently, by Alva Noë’s claim that Pop Music “looks like music, but it isn’t”, and his comparison of Popular Culture with pornography in Strange Tools (2016) (as Noë writes: “Pornography has a function; it aims at something. Art, in contrast, is always the subversion of function. […] Popular art, pop music, and the movies […] are creatures of the marketplace, after all, and success and failure here do seem to be tied, as with pornography, to the degree to which they entertain or pander”). In these and other similar cases, Popular Music has been considered as an artistically irrelevant part of human culture, because of its supposed lack of intrinsic value, and as a mere instrument extrinsically and totally guided by the economic interests of institutions such as “the culture industry” or “the spectacle”.
However, beside these critiques – quite often connected to a precise, specific and narrow idea of Art as always and necessarily esoteric –, in the last decades Popular Culture, in general, and Popular Music, in particular, have sometimes been the object of significant defenses and rehabilitations. This is testified, among others, by the works of aesthetic theorists such as Richard Shusterman, Theodore Gracyk, and others. Beside philosophical Aesthetics strictly understood, also the scientific discipline of Musicology has undergone significant changes and processes of self-critical rethinking in the last decades that have led to a more open and favorable attitude towards a serious and rigorous musicological study not only of Classical or Avant-garde Music, but also of various forms of Popular Music. At least to some extent, it seems that nowadays Popular Music has obtained a higher degree of academic legitimacy and respectability, as far as both its strictly musical aspects and also its sociopolitical meaning and impact are concerned. In this context, it can be noted that, while the historical and economic developments of contemporary capitalism have led to the creation of enormous conglomerations of corporations that have basically ruled the industrial production and commercialization of mainstream Popular Music (as already understood by Horkheimer and Adorno in the 1940s), at the same time the rise of new technologies and new media communication systems has also allowed the development of new forms of musical creation, practice, performance, and diffusion. These processes have apparently been particularly powerful and influential in a specific field of contemporary Popular Music, namely in the field of so-called Musical Subcultures, which, however, have still not received the same attention by academic scholars as so-called mainstream genres of Popular Music. The aesthetic and musicological study of Subcultures can be also stimulating and fruitful in terms of an investigation of their relation to “oppositional” forms of clothing (as explained by Elizabeth Wilson), of their relation to specific values, ways of thinking and lifestyles that characterize subcultural and countercultural groups (as shown by Dick Hebdige), and in many other ways.
Our Call for Papers on the topic “Aesthetics, Popular Music, and Subcultures” (issue n. 2/2024 of “Scenari”) invites scholars from different disciplines and with different backgrounds to submit contributions dealing with contemporary Aesthetics and Musicology, with a focus on Popular Music and especially on its Subcultural genres, styles, and forms. Submitted contributions can address topics such as the aesthetic relevance of Popular Music, the significance of particular styles of musical production and performance, or the relation between the musicological, social and political impact of Subcultural musical styles. Another core topic that we invite our potential contributors to address is the question concerning the dialectics of inclusion and exclusion of Popular Music within the broader framework and narrative of the History of Music. Also contributions addressing questions of ontology of music, production practices, and new forms of music consumption will be highly considered and particularly welcome.
Proposals (Full Papers) must be sent to CfpPopculture@gmail.com and must include:
- Title and abstract
- 5 keywords
- Short Bio of the author
- E-mail address of the author
- Full paper (min. 30.000 characters, max. 45.000 characters, footnotes included).
We accept submissions written in English or Italian.
We invite authors to use the author/year quotation system (e.g., “Marino 2021, p. 11”; “Mugnaini 2022, pp. 98-99”; “Scalfaro 2023, pp. 77, 111”) and to provide full references only in the final Bibliography.
Deadline for submitting proposals: June 15, 2024.
Notification of acceptance or refusal of the proposal after the peer review process: July 31, 2024.
Deadline for submitting the final article (after the potential revisions required by the reviewers): September 15, 2024.
Publication of the volume expected in December 2024.
All contributions received, after a first general selection made by the editors, will undergo a double-blind review evaluation.