Richard Sennett’s theory that industrial capitalism triggered the gradual elimination of shared cultural symbolism and thus contributed to the impoverishment of civic involvement deserves to be revisited in light of its implications for music education in an age of global information capitalism. In 1974 Sennett produced an extensive examination of the relationship between public culture and public space, arguing that our response to large-scale social and economic forces over which we have limited control is to retreat from public cultural expressions and consequently from public life. Extending Sennett’s sociological argument, I contend that the subjectivizing of musical meaning may lead to a withdrawal of critical engagement, as opposed to mere passing acquaintance, with various musico-cultural meanings, which may in turn damage people’s sense of civic commitment. This essay explores the challenges that formal music education faces in a world in which musical creativity often seems a matter of personal expression, and in which musical ability is often described in terms of immeasurable future potential. Both of these related views stem from a tacit acceptance of musical meaning as existing primarily in a subjective or personal realm. Reducing musical meaning to the psychological by focusing primarily on subjective experience leads to an avoidance of what Sennett calls the “jolt” of rubbing up against something foreign and questioning our assurances in our foundational beliefs. Music educators are encouraged to discuss music as a social product whenever practical in response to this threat.
"Music Education and the Shrinking Public Space: Implications of Richard Sennett's Sociological Ideas for Music Education,"
Visions of Research in Music Education: Vol. 41, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.lib.uconn.edu/vrme/vol41/iss1/5