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Music Role in Personal and Social Identities Essay

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Updated: May 21st, 2020

Introduction

Among other cultural elements, music has long provided an important vehicle through which individuals reimagine their identities and how they interact with other people or groups in the world around them. Music is an important aspect of any community as it provides people with an opportunity to enact some dramatic versions of alternative social and personal identities. More important, music also provides individuals in a society with the materials needed to perform these alternatives in their world using songs as well as characters and attitudes projected by these songs.

Therefore, the formation of identity, whether personal or social, is driven by music, among other social elements. However, the question of how music contributes to personal and social identities is important in examining the impact of musical culture in any society (Eyerman & Jamison, 1995). Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to answer the question ‘How does music contribute to personal and social identities?’ In answering this question, the paper will develop a comprehensive analysis of a number of issues such as the types of identities involved, their nature, the construction process, the consequences of these identities and the relationship between music consumption and identity.

The concept of identity and identity formation

Currently, the concept of identity is perceived as a dynamic process, which means that it is no longer seen as a static phenomenon. Leming (1987) argues that identity is a construction. According to this concept, personal identity is not an outside representation, but rather, it is constructed from within. Identity arises from the process of “self-narrativization” and partly lives in the imagination. It involves creating an image of “the self” as well as modifying the self that is assuming the created image. The question of identity is not the affirmation of the identity that is pre-given.

The concept of personal identity

A number of scholars have attempted to describe how identity is formed or created. Several scholars have shown that there is an important concept of “other” in the process of creation of an identity. The presence of an “other” is needed for an individual to construct “self”. Identity is constructed through personal relation to the “other”. It is the relation to “what it lacks” and to “what is not” or what is called the “constitutive outside”. Therefore, the process of constructing an identity requires an outreach towards an external factor or object. For an identity to exist, an individual must develop some significant relationship with another person, object or factor.

The concept of social or collective identity

Contrary to the observation that identity is constructed through a personal line, it is worth noting that identification exists at the collective site, where a group of individuals seeks similarities between oneself and the “other selves” (Leming, 1987). Thus, the sense of “we” is involved. It emphasizes a set of similarities between individuals in a group. Like personal identity, social identity is construction as well as a social artifact..

Music as a symbol of personal and social identity formation

Scholars have shown that symbolic interaction has a significant role in the process of formation of identities. Within the society or group, members tend to attach some meaning to some behaviours and people (symbols). These meanings are then transferred, shared and distributed through social interactions. Music is an example of the objects that act as symbols in the formation of identities. Popular music is the best example of music that has been involved in the creation of identities in the modern context. Leming (1987) asserts that music is a symbol that offers a sense of “self” as well as “others” of both subjective and collective nature. Moreover, it has been shown that music is a form of experience that elicits some emotions in groups and individuals. In addition, the music draws individuals into emotional alliances with the individuals who play and perform music as well as their fans.

Thus, cultural activities like music contribute to the formation of groups associated or associate themselves with the music itself or its performers and fans. In this way, both social and personal identities are formed through music. It allows individuals in a given society to know or consider themselves as part of a given group and different from other groups that align themselves to other music or form of music. It has been shown that music plays an important role in any society by providing an opportunity through which people make sense of themselves and the world around them.

The nature of the identity construction process associated with music

Since the 1950s, various musicals and associated cultures and subcultures have emerged while others decline. For instance, the formation of Teddy Boys, The Mods and The Rockers in the 1960s was a major aspect of the western culture, especially among the young people. It is evident that the type of music they listened to, played, or like Leming (1987) inspired these groups, which started in Britain and quickly spread to other western countries. For instance, the Mod subculture preferred and associated themselves with rhythm and blues, beat and soul music. The Rockers were aligned to Rock and Roll music. For example, the Rockers’ identity was created through rock and roll music and symbolized by a number of behaviours like wearing protective clothing such as black jackets made of strong leather and boots or creeper shoes (Ramirez, 2012).

This identity was mainly achieved through inspiration from the performers of rock and roll music as well as their fans. Individuals who became part of the group were inspired through listening, participating or watching performers of rock and roll music. Since the performers of rock and roll were known for wearing protective clothing and riding motorcycles since the 1950s, their fans assumed this culture. Each individual wanted to be associated with the performers (Tanner, Asbridge & Wortley, 2008). Thus, for one, achieve this identity, it was necessary to behave in the same manner, especially by through the style of clothing.

First, personal identity was created when an individual listened, watched or participated in the roll and rock music. It was necessary to be associated with the music and its performers. To achieve this, individuals felt the need to behave in a similar manner. To ensure that other people are aware, an individual would behave in the same way as the performers. Thus, personal identity as a Rocker would be formed. Secondly, as individuals create personal identities, social or collective identities emerged. For instance, rockers found that individuals of their kind behaved in a certain way, especially by emulating the performers of rock and roll. Within their neighbourhoods, the individuals who assumed the subculture often felt fitting when in the company of individuals with the same behaviour. To separate themselves from other individuals or groups in society, the rockers formed groups comprised of individuals with the same behaviour and perceptions.

The nature of personal and social identity formed through music

In the modern world, music is a highly dynamic element in most cultures. Although music was rigid in terms of style, performance, wording, meaning and purpose in most traditional societies, the nature of modern music has changed significantly. The modern music has to change themes, styles and other aspects (Denisoff & Levine, 1970). Similarly, the identities created through music are dynamic in nature. Individuals who assume these personal and social identities tend to change behaviours with time. In particular, the change of music itself affects the stability of these identities. Since music tends to change in themes, meanings, purposes, tunes and rhythms, the associated culture and identities also tend to change with the changing music. Identities created by a music culture or subculture tend to change or decline within a few years as shown by historical evidence.

For instance, the formation of the Mod culture, which was based on Jazz Music in the 1950s and early 1960s, is an important example of the first dynamic cultures that adopted various behaviours within a short time. The Mod culture was highly dynamic due to commercialization of the behaviour and style. According to this assertion, the Mod culture started with a few groups of individuals associated with Jazz Music. Jazz Music was highly dynamic and modernized. Individual performers attempted to create additional aspects into the style, theme, tunes and other features in order to attract more fans and outdo their competitors.

In fact, Jazz was highly commercialized and stylized to the point of changing in various aspects within a short period. Similarly, the associated personal and collective identities changed with time, especially among young people. As fans watched or listened to the changing music style, they felt the need to update their behaviour and perceptions towards music and associated aspects. Thus, the musical culture and the associated personal and collective identities kept changing with time.

Noteworthy, there was heavy commercialization, artificialization and stylization to the point that the style, especially clothing, was created by corporations that eyed the economic opportunities brought by the Mod subculture. Individuals felt that their identities were being interfered with, especially when a large number of people clothed in a similar or closely similar manner. Thus, several individuals felt the need to change some or overall behaviour, which saw the emergence of new or related subcultures.

Secondly, the dynamic drift from one musical form to another plays a significant role in the dynamic nature of the identities associated with music. For instance, modern society changes in musical preferences within a short time, often due to the emergence of styles and forms that are perceived as more modernized or personalized than the previous one. For example, the emergence of psychedelic rock and the hippie music forms and styles in the 1960s and 1970s greatly affected the personal and collective identities associated with the Mod and Rock and Roll culture in the early 1960s (Allooh, Rummell & Levant, 2013). Most individual identities shifted from Mod to the new subcultures. For instance, performers such as The Small Faces and The Who changed their music styles from mod to the more modernized hippie style. In this way, their public identities changed as they were no longer considered mods. Similarly, their fans and listeners in the public arena changed their identities. Individuals felt that the Mod culture was no longer special or important, which forced them to change their clothing and other behaviour styles.

Consequences of personal and social identities formed through music

A number of consequences are associated with the assumption of identities associated with music. Some of the best examples have been observed in Britain and North America. Noteworthy, at any one time, more than one form of identity exists in a given society. While some are formed through music, others are formed through other aspects of the society, including religion, sports and other activities. In most cases, assuming an individual or collective identity has some impact on a person or group. One of the major consequences is the achievement of a sense of belonging. For instance, individuals who assume identities as Hippies by behaving in the Hippie manner often felt that they belonged to the group (Leming, 1987). According to some studies, this sense of belonging provides individuals with some pleasure by feeling that other people note and recognize the assumed identity (Eyerman & Jamison, 1995).

Secondly, a major consequent is a conflict of ideas, perceptions and behaviour with other members of the society or other subcultures created by music or other aspects of the society. For instance, individuals who assumed the Mod or rock and roll culture were often in conflict with each other, the law and the media (Carsch, 1968). For example, the physical conflicts between the groups associated with the Mod and Rock and Rolls in 1964, which took place mostly in Margate, Brighton and Broadstairs, provide evidence of the degree of conflict of ideas and styles between individual and groups assuming collective identities (Mullaney, 2012).

Thirdly, devitalization of youth music is a major consequence of the identities to the individuals and their society. For instance, after the Mods and Rocks were involved in physical and ideological conflicts in Europe and America, the media exaggerated their coverage, often depicting the individuals as violent, lawbreaking and deviant. The media often reported various incidents of youth deviance in Britain and North America, especially the use of amphetamines and knife violence, accusing the members of these groups of involvement in these activities.

References

Allooh, N. N. , Rummell, C. M. , & Levant, R. F. (2013). ‘Emo’ culture and gender norms in late adolescents and young adults. THYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies, 7 (1), 21-42. Web.

Carsch, H. (1968). The Protestant ethic and the popular idol in America. Social Compass, 15 (1), 45-69. Web.

Denisoff, R. J. , & Levine, M. H. (1970). Generations and counterculture: A study in the ideology of music. Youth & Society, 2, 33-58. Web.

Eyerman, R., & Jamison, A. (1995). Social movements and cultural transformation: Popular music in the 1960s. Media, culture & society, 17(3), 449-468. Web.

Leming, J. S. (1987). Rock Music and the socialization of moral values in early adolescent. Youth & Society, 18, 363-383. Web.

Mullaney, J. L. (2012). All in time: Age and the temporality of authenticity in the Straight-Edge music scence. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 41 (6), 611-635. Web.

Ramirez, M. (2012). Performing gender by performing music: Constructions of masculinity in a college music scene. Journal of Men’s Studies, 20 (2), 108-124. Web.

Tanner, J. , Asbridge, M. , & Wortley, S. (2008). Our favourite melodies: Musical consumption and teenage lifestyles. British Journal of Sociology, 59 (1), 117-144. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Music Role in Personal and Social Identities." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/music-role-in-personal-and-social-identities/.

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