Becoming ethical subjects : an êthography of Do-it-Yourself music practices in Glasgow
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This thesis focuses upon ‘Do-it-Yourself’ (DiY) music practices in Glasgow, a Scottish city with an established reputation for sustaining a prolific grassroots music scene. With special reference to three local music actors – a band, a music collective and a live music promoter – it explores ethnographically the pluralistic nature of music-making and its relation to ethics. Rather than perceiving activities under the DiY rubric as peripheral and haphazard, I argue that they play an intrinsic role in ethical self-formation and that they are striking in their capacity to order the lives of urban individuals. Therefore, I attend to music practice as an ethical practice by underscoring the interrelationship between music and the city as a distinctive form of ethical urban life. In drawing upon the emergent anthropology of ethics and echoing the work of authors such as Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre, I conceive of music-making as a process of intersubjective ethical cultivation, as a way of exercising freedom, and the means by which my informants perpetually sought to exert their right to inhabit the locality. In treating the local as a series of repetitive but ever evolving and intersecting pathways as opposed to a given and fixed geographical entity, I attempt to render the city an inherent ethical modality of social life and, conversely, to scrutinize music practice as a process that localizes subjects. Thus, my ethnographic examination of the ways in which urban space impinges upon music practice and, in turn, is musically constructed and experienced, offers a lens into the ethical resonance of music as a processual nexus for the making of ethical selves and cities. My informants’ desire to inhabit the locality on their own terms was predicated upon the active appropriation and enactment of spaces and norms, rather than oscillating between passivity or subordination and resistance. This highlights the needs to problematize the pervasive notion of ‘agency’ that underpins social-scientific accounts of human freedom and to question the rigidity of the dichotomy between structure and agency. An emphasis on ethical judgement and the pedagogical role of music activity in conferring a DiY êthos and in making oneself a certain kind of person also requires the consideration of the embodied dispositions pertinent to and cultivated through variegated music practices, and how the acquisition of relevant musical skills simultaneously engenders particular ethical potentialities. This construes ethics as Aristotelian poiêsis and an ineluctably skilled practice and further alludes to the intimate relationship between music and the body. In resorting to the body’s capacity to affect and be affected by music and other bodies, my analysis aims to account for the conditioning of sensuous articulations and corporeal registers by sonic vocabularies, and the process of interpenetration between the musical and the visceral that elicits specific ethical propensities. This interface between sound and the affective body, I argue, provides a uniquely ‘musical’ way of thinking about ethics as a relational phenomenon, and also helps to restore a notion of politics on the basis of intersubjective ethical transformation rather than conventional political efficacy in the public realm.