Studies in Literature and Culture
Bent Sørensen - Sean-nós, sean-nua … sean-nós nua? Constructions of Authority, Tradition and Innovation in Popular Irish Music
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Sean-nós, sean-nua … sean-nós nua? Constructions of Authority, Tradition and Innovation in Popular Irish Music
This essay examines the dynamics between old and new ways in Irish music, with specific attention to constructions of tradition vis-à-vis innovation, interpreted through the concept of authority, understood as who has the agency to carry out an authoritative interpretation and performance. For the purpose of this analysis Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of fields of cultural production, cultural capital, and gatekeeping and consecration are employed. Bourdieu’s categories are cross-pollinated with the idea of the ‘glocal’ as an integrative strategy to integrate tradition and innovation; Irish music providing the tradition, and global influences on performance practices providing the innovative aspects.
Irish music is of course a vast area to engage with, especially as the global interest in both traditional Irish music and Irish rock has exploded over the last half century, starting with the folk revival of the 1960s and culminating with the global success of rock bands such as U2 in the 1990s. In this piece, the research interest is therefore limited to a small number of artists and their interventions into a very specific portion of the Irish music tradition, namely the traditional unaccompanied song in Gaelic nowadays known as sean-nós, or the old style. While there is still considerable local interest in the practice of this genre, it is not the most commercially viable type of music in an...
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