Danseglede og hverdagsliv: Etikk, estetikk og politikk i det norske dansebandfeltet
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This PhD thesis is an in-depth study on Norwegian dance band music and culture. Dance band can be defined both as a specific music genre with its own songs and lyrics, artists and aesthetic contents, and as a taste culture in a wider sense of the word, which includes festivals and events where the artists and their audience meet to dance, sing and celebrate the social and cultural values they share. Dancing to dance band music is the most central activity at the dance band festivals, but many people also attend the events in order to listen to their favorite bands and/or socialize with other fans and dancers present. Dance band culture also includes magazines and internet communities where the fans and lovers of dance band music read about their favorite artists and discuss their interest. The research object of this thesis is not just the musical genre of dance band; it is dance band culture in a wider sense of the word, as a whole set of social practices and aesthetic expressions. By using Bourdieu’s concept of field, the research object of the thesis is defined as the field of dance band.
Dance band music is a popular cultural expression in Norway, in the sense that a large number of people listen to and dance to the music, buy records and attend events where the music is performed. But dance band music does not enjoy a high status in the field of culture as such: Critics tend to describe it as bad taste, simple, commercial and of poor quality. The artists performing it are not included in any official cultural policy plans or funding systems, as is the case for musicians from almost every other musical genre in Norway. As a consequence of the disparagement of dance band music and culture it has not yet been the object of much research. A few Norwegian and Swedish studies, however, confirm the position of the dance band in the lower part of the cultural hierarchy. According to present cultural statistics, those who listen to dance band music are working class people with low education living in rural areas. Furthermore, the aesthetic content of the dance band music is described as classically lowbrow, in the sense that it is characterised by following strict conventional formulas rather than being artistically experimental, and that the music promotes functional use and involvement rather than distance and critical reflection.
The departure point of this thesis is the people in the field of dance band; those who love to listen to and dance to dance band music, and those who perform and promote this music. The aim of the thesis is to analyze how these people experience being part of a popular and widespread, but devalued part of Norwegian culture.
The main research question of the thesis is: What social and aesthetical values and distinctions are present in the field of dance band in Norway, and how do these values and distinctions contribute to establishing a social community in the field?
The main question is elaborated through four sub questions:
- 1) What is the meaning and function of dance band festivals in relation to the wider field of dance band?
- 2) How do the statements and practices of the participants at the dance band festivals and events contribute to establishing certain taste distinctions in the field of dance band?
- 3) How do the discussions on quality and artistic recognition in dance band music relate to the general social values of the field of dance band?
- 4) How does the devalued position of the field of dance band in the Norwegian field of culture affect the construction of a community among the participants in the field?
The thesis is based on empirical data from participant observation at events in the field of dance band, such as festival and public dances, through qualitative interviews with central persons in the field (dance band musicians, dancers, fans), and through qualitative analysis of magazine texts about dance band music and culture.
The thesis has seven chapters. The first introductory chapter presents the background for the study and the research questions. Based on findings from previous research I discuss the position of dance band music in the cultural hierarchy, and I also position my research as being part of an interdisciplinary cultural policy research tradition. The second chapter is a discussion of the methodological approach of the study. In this chapter the process of collecting data is presented, as well as the process of categorizing and analyzing the material. Finally some methodological and ethical issues concerning participant observation and qualitative interviews are outlined, such as getting access to the field and establishing a trustful relationship between the researcher and those being the object of the research. The third chapter contains an elaboration of the theoretical perspectives used in the thesis, such as the use of Bourdieu’s concepts of field and distinctions. The chapter also discusses some theoretical challenges related to understanding aesthetical expressions as being part of wider social practices.
The next three chapters constitute empirical in-depth analyses of different parts of the field of dance band. In the first of the three chapters the dance band festivals are analyzed as the central social rituals of the field. Here I use ritual theory in the tradition of Durkheim to show how the festivals function as rituals that establish a strong feeling of social commitment and community among the festival participants. I also identify different categories of participants present at the festivals: Dancers, listeners/fans, party people and musicians are examples of different groups participating in the field. The next chapter (chapter five) elaborates on the social values and distinctions present in the field and at the dance band festivals. By discussing how the festival participants through speech and actions establish certain social rules at the different parts of the festival arena, such as on the dance floor or in the surrounding camping area where the audience stay, I identify distinctions very equal to classic Bourdieuan working class values. I also show how the dance band people establish internal distinctions, as well as distinctions to other external groups, such as the highbrows up above, and the country music audience down below. The last of these three chapters (chapter 6) outlines the notions of musical and aesthetic quality values present in the field. These notions of quality are then discussed in relation to the social values outlined in the previous chapter.
The seventh and final chapter of the thesis concludes the analysis by summing up both the ethical, aesthetic and political values of the field of dance band, as these can be identified in my material. I find that both in the aesthetic and social practices of the field of dance band the values of joy and happiness, as well as values of the everyday life of working class people, are celebrated as the most important ones. I also conclude by claiming that the placing of the dance band music and culture in the lower parts of the cultural hierarchy is used actively by the participants of the field when establishing their own identity as a social community, as a field of its own – that is a field in the Bourdieuan sense of the word.