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Performative Listening

Hearing Others in Qualitative Research

Chris McRae

Performative Listening: Hearing Others in Qualitative Research offers an alternative theory of listening – as a performative act, or as a relational stance and performance in which listeners ethically engage in an act of learning from others across difference. This theory emerges from an interdisciplinary approach to performance studies, communication, musicology, and critical pedagogy in order to present a nuanced theory of listening as performance that is always linked to questions of context, individual experiences, and cultural expectations. Working from examples of the music and autobiography of Miles Davis, this book offers a clear and practical guide for applying performative listening in the contexts of qualitative, narrative, and arts-based approaches to research and inquiry. By emphasizing the embodied, relational, and creative functions of the highly contextual and cultural performance of listening, Performative Listening presents a theory and method that can be used to rethink the ways scholars and students engage with others in a wide variety of qualitative research and educational contexts.
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Chapter 5. Listening Musically: Hearing and Aesthetics




In his review of the book Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, musicologist Robert Walser (2007) argues against the kind of criticism and analysis that labels music “bad” without considering the culturally complex nature of musical taste (pp. 512–516). Walser works from Hickey’s (1997) claim that “Bad taste is real taste of course, and good taste is the residue of someone else’s privilege…” (p. 65). For Walser, analysis and criticism that declares various musical forms bad (and in particular, stupid) is founded in an uncritical and unethical exercise of privilege over careful consideration and appreciation of the complex cultural differences that produce a variety of musical performances (2007 p. 511). In other words, taste in music is produced culturally, and is always a matter of privilege.

Instead, Walser argues for criticism and analysis of music that carefully considers, and even listens for, the ways music is culturally produced and recognized as significant, rather than criticism that simply and reductively evaluates and categorizes music as “good” or “bad.” The first exception Walser allows are musical performances that fail to accomplish a valuable experience for the participants (for any reason). The second exception Walser offers is musical performances that may successfully accomplish a valuable experience for one group of participants at the expense of other cultural groups, such as music at a ← 93 | 94 → white power rally (2007 p. 515). Walser’s arguments regarding the evaluation of music...

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