Friday, July 15, 2011

Music and ageing

Today, I received the offer of free access to articles published in Cambridge Journals in 2009 and 2010 until August 30th, 2011. Great! Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to spend a summer vacation reading scientific literature? If interested, YOU can also access these journals by going to the Cambridge Journals website!
One of the articles I discovered is "Musical taste and ageing" by Jill Harrison and John Ryan (in Ageing & Society 30, 2010). Similar to Bourdieu's works on social capital, the authors propose that
Taste not only helps to make sense out of the endless array of products available on the cultural menu, but is also through consumption and display a way of signalling group membership, social location, identity and self.

The study is sociologically oriented, based on questionnaire survey material from 1982,1992 and 2002 from all over the USA.
The authors mention a problem that also I have run into when interviewing people about what music they like: Do the names of artists or styles really mean the same thing to all informants? Harrison & Ryan write:
It is impossible to know, for example, what type of music a respondent was thinking of when asked if he or she liked ‘new age’ music. There will have been considerable variability in the respondents’ knowledge and interpretation of the types of music and artists associated with each genre.

In their conclusion, the authors state that respondent's musical tastes were generally narrow as young people, wider during middle age, then narrow again once reaching retirement age. One of their interpretations is:
First, there is the possibility that older adults’ tastes are selectively pruned as a response to declines in social network size. A varied taste pattern becomes relationally less necessary as a strategy for interaction with the people in one’s network. At the same time, given that new tastes are encouraged by wider, diverse and expanding social networks, the tendency for older people’s networks to contract and to become homogeneous in age is unlikely to foster exposure to new musical forms.

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