Music and Society: The Role of Music in Society through History, from Plato to Pussy Riot

Course description Music and Society: The Role of Music in Society through History, from Plato to Pussy Riot
Year: 2016-2017
Catalog number: 7600HCMUC
  • Drs. H. Ismaili M'hamdi
  • Dr. Paulo de Assis
  • Prof.dr. Anahid Kassabian
Language: English
Blackboard: Yes
EC: 5
Level: 400
Period: Semester 1, Block I, II
  • No Elective choice
  • No Contractonderwijs
  • No Exchange
  • No Study Abroad
  • No Evening course
  • No A la Carte
  • Yes Honours Class

Admission requirements

This course is an Honours Class and therefore in principle only available to students of the Honours College. There are a few places available for regular students.


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 subject of reflection in this class.

Recent research on listening attitudes has revealed that at any randomly sampled moment between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. there was a roughly 50 percent likelihood that people would 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. Hence, 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. However, 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 will:

  • learn to think about different roles, functions, and positions of music in contemporary society.
  • 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.
  • practice so-called ‘close reading’ of philosophical and sociological texts on music.
  • 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.
  • learn to evaluate and present their own listening and thinking about music.


Tuesdays; 27 September, 4, 11, 18 October, 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 November, 6 December; 17:00 – 19:00 hrs.


Lipsius Building, room 208.


Lesson 1 (27-09-16) – Drs. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
General Introduction to Music and Society
- 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 (04-10-16) – Drs. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
Music and Politics 1
- 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.

Lesson 3 (11-10-16) – Prof. dr. Anahid Kassabian
Guest Lecture
Ubiquitous Musics

Lesson 4 (18-10-16) – Prof. dr. M.A. Cobussen
Guest Lecture
Omnipresence of music
- 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.

Lesson 5 (01-11-16) – Dr. Paolo de Assis
Guest Lecture
Music and Politics 2

Lesson 6 (08-11-16) – Drs. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi
Music and Society, introduction to Adorno
- 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.

Lesson 7 (15-11-16) – Mr. Juraj Stanik
Guest Lecture
A Professional’s perspective

Lesson 8 (22-11-16) –Drs. H. Ismaili-M’hamdi
Reading Adorno
- Adorno, T. W. (1991). On the fetish character in music and the regression of listening. The essential Frankfurt school reader, 270-99.

Lesson 9 (29-11-16) – Drs. H. Ismaili M’hamdi
Music and Ethics
- 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.

Lesson 10 (06-12-16) – Drs. H. Ismaili M’hamdi
Music and Society – Conclusion Group debate

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars: 10 seminars of 2 hours
  • Literature reading & practical work: 60 hours
  • Assignments & final essay: 60 hours

Assessment method

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments
  • 50% final essay
  • 10% active participation in class

Blackboard and uSis

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

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

All readings will be available on Blackboard


Enrolling in this course is possible from August 17th until September 5h through the Honours Academy, via this link


Ir. Rogier Schneemann