Music and Capitalism in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective

Call for papers
Music and Capitalism in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective
8 October 2014
Senate House, University of London
Convener: Dr Anna Morcom, Royal Holloway, University of London

The topic of music and its relationship to capitalism has received most attention in the context of popular music. This ranges from Adorno’s influential work on commodity fetishism in popular music (1978 [1938]), to recent work on advertising and corporations (Taylor 2012; Bradshaw 2008; Carah 2010), to more nuanced considerations of music’s commodity status (Taylor 2007).

However, capitalism emerged first in the city-states of Renaissance Italy, and grew to become a world system with trade, industrialization and colonialism (Arrighi 2010 [1994]). More recently, since the late 1970s and 1980s, liberal reforms have been adopted by or imposed on countries across the world, intensifying and deepening global trade, wage labour and logics of business and entrepreneurship and bringing about rapid, though uneven, economic growth (Harvey 2005). Thus, in addition to popular music, capitalism encompasses core centuries of the development of western classical music and the transformations of classical and folk musics across the world under colonialism and modernity.

With the recent phase of global capitalism, its ‘simultaneous, synergistic spiralling of wealth and poverty’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2000: 291) as well as its immense crises, substantial attention has been paid to neoliberalism in Social Sciences such as Geography and Anthropology and, to a lesser extent, in the Humanities. Work is also emerging that looks explicitly at the workings of liberalization on musical cultures and greater attention is being paid to economic perspectives. There has been an increased focus on music as a business, in particular, exploring beyond so-called ‘commercial’ music, i.e. pop music, and looking at classical and ‘folk’ musics too (Talbot ed. 2002). Qureshi’s edited volume Music and Marx was also groundbreaking in exploring music, capitalism and Marxism/socialism in cultures that span history and geography (2002). A longer-standing rich literature on music history, patronage and audiences has existed within musicology, including work that focuses on transitions to modern cultural economies and industries of concerts, cinema and recording (for example Ehrlich 1985; Olmsted 2002). In addition, a slim but important body of work has emerged on cultural economics following Baumol’s book on the cost disease, most significantly, publications by Towse (for example, 2013). A substantial corpus of work has also built up on copyright regimes (e.g. Frith and Marshall 2004), including their impact on pre-modern musical cultures from the late twentieth century (Feld 2000).

However, no comprehensive economic ethno/pop/musicology of music and capitalism exists that explores capitalism as a world/global system across time and place, and examines the patterns and parallels of change it has engendered in different eras and geographical contexts. This conference aims to address this fertile area, exploring music and capitalism historically and cross culturally, looking at capitalism as an agent of dynamism and change at the level of production, consumption, labour and aesthetics. The aim is for interdisciplinary debate, with scholars from disciplines such as Economic History, Economic Anthropology and Economics particularly encouraged, as well as those from Music Studies.

Papers are invited that address the following issues as well as other core aspects of the relationship of music and capitalism:

– Money, surpluses and the patronage and funding of arts under capitalism
– Business, profit-making, productiveness and capital accumulation in and through music
– Tensions or conflicts of art versus commerce
– Ostentation and conspicuous consumption in music under capitalism
– Music and wage labour
– Copyright and notions of ownership
– Capitalism, technological development and musical cultures/economies
– Capitalism, aesthetics and music
– Stardom, mass audiences and economies of scale
– The transformation of pre-modern genres under capitalist economies
– Crises and contradictions in the history of music and capitalism
– Music, class and uneven development under capitalism
– The unevenness or hybridity of logics of exchange within ‘capitalist’ societies
– Analytical limits of the term ‘capitalism’

Papers from this conference will potentially form the basis of a publication.

Please submit a 250-word abstract and a short biographical note (including name, affiliation, e-mail) by 15 June 2014 to Anna Morcom, anna.morcom[at]