Performing class in British popular music

  • Nathan J B Wiseman-Trowse

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

his dissertation evaluates and explores the way in which class signification operates within British popular music. Notably, British rock music has forged a connection between working class experience and signification and notions of the authentic . This has been reinforced both within the disciplines of sociology and cultural studies by a focus on the articulation of marginalised and counter-hegemonic voices through popular music that is usually understood to have working class social origins, particularly in relation to subcultural activity.

However, this dissertation utilises performativity theory to understand how popular music is capable of forming a discourse that provides performed subjectivities that articulate class identities. These identities are not simple manifestations of class-based experience, but are manifestations particular to popular music.

Where performativity theory has dealt with the issue of class, the assumption has primarily been that middle class subjectivities are prioritised at the expense of working class identities. Within British rock discourse this relationship is consistently reversed, privileging working class subjectivity. This process acts as a strategy of authentication, a strategy that is demanded by the seemingly contradictory relationship between art and commerce, a contradiction at the heart of popular music. As rock discourse provides the listener with subjectivities to be performed, the subject’s relationship to a commercial industry is often masked by signifiers of authenticity, in this case, class-based identities and iconography. As such working class subjectivity is prioritised as a means to manage the commercial nature of rock music, even as that commercial structure (the music industry) provides that subjectivity.

Through case studies focussing on folk rock, punk and indie rock, the articulation of class identity is explored as an assurance of authenticity that is performed and regulated through rock discourse as it connects with an invented tradition of the folk voice , a mythical representation of 'the (working class) people' constructed as a response both to modernity and the industrialisation of popular music.
Date of Award2006
LanguageEnglish
SupervisorSonya Andermahr (Supervisor) & Nick Heffernan (Supervisor)

Cite this

Performing class in British popular music
Wiseman-Trowse, N. J. B. (Author). 2006

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis