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Music in Contemporary Society: Its Role, Function and Position


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: Music, society, politics, identity.
Disciplines: Philosophy, Sociology, History, Culture Studies.
Skills: Thinking, contextualization, close-reading, public speaking.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


Music. It surrounds us, every day and everywhere. Many people cannot live without it. What makes music so important in our contemporary society? What is the role, the function, and the position of music in our everyday lives? These and other questions will be discussed in this Class.
Recent research on listening attitudes has revealed that at any moment between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. there is a 50 percent chance that people will have heard music in the preceding two hours. However, there was only a 2 percent chance that music was the main focus of their attention. Therefore, music may play an important role in everyday life, even if it is hardly listened to. A nice paradox!

This course settles scores with the prevailing idea that music is an autonomous art form, functioning independently from social, political, economic, technological, and ethical developments. This does not mean that music merely passively represents society; music does much more than “depict” or embody values. Music is active and dynamic, constitutive not merely of values but of trajectories and styles of conduct. It plays an important role in shaping society and identities. The scope of music reaches far beyond the concert hall. It accompanies our traveling, sports, shopping, and working activities. It speaks to us and silences us. It sways and soothes us. Music provides parameters that can be used to frame experiences, perceptions, feelings, and comportments.

This course introduces students through a close reading of sociological and philosophical texts to think on different roles, positions and functions of music: an aesthetic, a political, an ethical, and an emancipatory function.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students:

  • have learned to think about different roles, functions, and positions of music in contemporary society;

  • have developed a new attitude to music. They learn to bring music into philosophical, sociological, and various cultural perspectives. Music is placed in a socio-cultural context;

  • have practiced so-called ‘close reading’ of philosophical and sociological texts on music;

  • have learned how to relate music to philosophy and vice versa. They learn to think on music not (only) in a historical or theoretical way but (also) within a philosophical tradition;

  • have learned to evaluate and present their own listening and thinking about music.

Programme and timetable:

The 10 sessions of the class will take place on Tuesday evenings 19.00-21.00 hrs on the following dates:

Session 1: April 12, 2022
General Introduction and 'Music and Autonomy' by Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
Wolff, Janet (1987). “The Ideology of Autonomous Art.” In: Leppert, Richard and Susan McClary (eds.); Music and Society. The Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-12;
Hamilton, Andy (2007). “Aesthetics and Music” Bloomsbury Publishing, pp. 67-72.

Session 2: April 19, 2022
Music Cognition by Dr. Rebecca Schaefer

Session 3: April 26, 2022
Music and Identity by Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi

Session 4: May 3, 2022
Pop Smash Hits by Rogier Schneemann MSc MMus

Session 5: May 10, 2022
Music and Social Stratification by Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
Fowler, Brigit (1999) “Pierre Bourdieu's sociological theory of culture” Variant, Volume 2 Number 8, pp1-4; Prior, Nick (2011) “Critique and Renewal in the Sociology of Music: Bourdieu and Beyond”, Cultural Sociology, pp121-138.

Session 6: May 17, 2022
Popular and Global Music by Dr. Carlos Roos Muñoz

Session 7: May 24, 2022
Music and Ethics by Dr. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi
Scruton, Roger (2010) “Music and Morality” available from; Hamilton, Andy (2009) “Scruton’s Philosophy of Culture: Elitism, Populism and Classical Art, The British Journal of Aesthetics, pp 389-404.

Session 8: May 31, 2022
Music and Society by jazz musician Benjamin Herman and Dr. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi

Session 9: June 7, 2022
Adorno on Regression of Listening by Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
Adorno, Theodor (1938) “On the Fetish Character in Music and Regression of Listening” Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung Vol VII.

Session 10: June 14, 2022
Written exam - Dr. H. Ismaili M’hamdi

LIPSIUS building, room 002

Reading list:

  • Wolff, Janet (1987). “The Ideology of Autonomous Art.” In: Leppert, Richard and Susan McClary (eds.), Music and Society. The Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-12;

  • Hamilton, Andy (2007). “Aesthetics and Music” Bloomsbury Publishing, pp. 67-72;

  • Viriasova, I. (2011). Politics and the Political: Correlation and the Question of the Unpolitical. Peninsula: A Journal of Relational Politics, 1(1);

  • Gracyk, T., & Kania, A. (2011). The Routledge companion to philosophy and music. Routledge. T. Grey Wagner (p.379 - 389);

  • Bergeron, K. (1992). Prologue: disciplining music. Disciplining Music: Musicology and its canons, 1-9;

  • LaBelle, Brandon (2010). Acoustic Territories. Sound Culture and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum, pp. 165-200;

  • Bull, Michael (2003). “The Soundscapes of the Car: A Critical Study of Automobile Habitation.” In Bull, Michael and Les Back (eds.), The Sound Studies Reader. Oxford: Berg, pp. 357-374;

  • Sterne, J. (2005). Urban media and the politics of sound space. Open, 9, 6-14;

  • Gracyk, T., & Kania, A. (2011). The Routledge companion to philosophy and music. Routledge. : A Hamilton. Adorno (p.391-403);

  • DeNora, T. (2003). After Adorno: rethinking music sociology. Cambridge University Press;

  • Adorno, T. W. (1991). On the fetish character in music and the regression of listening. The essential Frankfurt school reader, 270-99;

  • Gracyk, T., & Kania, A. (2011). The Routledge companion to philosophy and music. Routledge. S. Halliwell. Plato (p.307 317);

  • Scruton R. (2010). Music and morality. The American Spectator;

  • Hamilton, A. (2009). Scruton's Philosophy of Culture: Elitism, Populism, and Classic Art. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 49(4), 389-404.

Other possible literature will be announced in class or on Brightspace.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars and guest lectures: 10 seminars of 2 hours (attendance is mandatory);

  • Literature reading & practical work: 55 hours;

  • Self study – MOOC: 5 hours;

  • Assignments & final essay: 60 hours.

Assessment methods:

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments;

  • 50% final essay (3,000 words approx.)

  • 10% active participation in class.

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 1 November 2021 up to and including Thursday 11 November 2021 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

class coordinator Ir. Rogier Schneemann