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Music in Contemporary Society: Its Role, Function and Position


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.

Key words:

Skills: Thinking, contextualization, close-reading, public speaking.

Theme: Music, society, politics, identity.

Disciplines: Philosophy, Sociology, History, Culture Studies.


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 develop 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 learn how to relate music to philosophy and v.v. They learn to think on music not (only) in a historical or theoretical way but (also) within a philosophical tradition; have learn to evaluate and present their own listening and thinking about music.

Programme and timetable:

The lectures take place on Tuesday evenings 19.00-21.00 hrs

  • Lesson 1 on Thursday 9 April 2020 (NEW DATE) – General Introduction and 'Music and Autonomy'- 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.

  • Lesson 2 on 14 April 2020 – Music Cognition - Dr. Rebecca Schaefer

  • Lesson 3 on 21 April 2020 – Music and Identity - Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi

  • Lesson 4 on 28 April 2020 – Music and Society, a Professional’s Perspective - Dr. M. Titre

  • Lesson 5 on 12 May 2020 – Music and Social Stratification - 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.

  • Lesson 6 on 19 May 2020 – Values in Music - Dr. Paul Craenen

  • Lesson 7 on 26 May 2020 – Music and Technology - Dhr. E.F. van der Heide MMus

  • Lesson 8 on 2 June 2020 – Music and Ethics - Dr. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi
    Scruton, Roger (2010) “Music and Morality” available from www.roger-scruton.com/about/music/understanding-music/182-music-and-morality; Hamilton, Andy (2009) “Scruton’s Philosophy of Culture: Elitism, Populism and Classical Art, The British Journal of Aesthetics, pp 389-404.

  • Lesson 9 on 9 June 2020 – Adorno on Regression of Listening - Dr. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
    Adorno, Theodor (1938) “On the Fetish Character in Music and Regression of Listening” Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung Vol VII.

  • Lesson 10 on 16 June 2020 – Written exam - Dr. H. Ismaili M’hamdi


Lipsius (Cleveringaplaats 1), room 228 (with the exception of the first lecture on 9 April, which takes place in Lipsius room 148).

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 Blackboard.

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:

The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments;

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

  • 10% active participation in class.

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


Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard page one weeks prior to the start of the course.

Registration process:

Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday 4th of November up to and including Thursday the 14th of November until 23:59 o'clock by the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

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


Dr. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi: h.ismailimhamdi@erasmusmc.nl;
Ir. Rogier Schneemann (class coordinator): acpa@hum.leidenuniv.nl.