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You will choose a particular music scene (virtual or real), the cultural significance of a single song, or a distinct subculture (genre culture). Your essay will present it with some analysis of its meaning—how, why, and what it means.
For each choice, you have some good models by now.
For scenes see Sullivan (weeks 5 & 6), Peterson and Fox (week 7) and Byrne (week 2).
For cultural significance, see Wilson & Klosterman (week 3) and Williams (week 2).
And for subcultures, see Holt & Frith (week 3), Hebdige (week 4), Sullivan (week 6) and Williams (week 2) and Bourdieu (week5).
This list is not exhaustive. There are many other sources, models, and combinations. It will depend on your particular focus. Further, you may find yourself blending approaches and even mixing scenes, cultural analysis, and talk of subcultures. That’s fine. No, that’s good.
Additionally, I’ve copied some writing prompts for “Music Scenes” and “Cultural Criticism” from How to Write about Music. That file should be in ulearn just after these instructions.
As with all good academic writing, you’ll be making claims. You will need a central claim that organizes and structures the entire essay, and sections and paragraphs should also be defined around claims.
Your claim will be based on your evaluation and analysis of a range of primary and secondary sources. The primary sources will depend on your topic, your claim, and your interests. But they will probably include such things as song lyrics, artists’ web pages, conversations with friends about music, descriptions of music videos, fan discussion pages, record label websites, critical press (NYT, Rolling Stone, etc.) and so on. This list is not exhaustive; in fact, the list of potential primary sources is endless.
The secondary source(s) will come from the assigned course readings. You will use one or more of the writers as a sort of critical framework to help you make sense of your observations. This framework will show up in your paper in a moment where you probably say something like: “This type of behavior is characteristic of what Writer X calls Y. These moments are instances of ‘.…’ We see this type of Y in language used in the online fan site Z. As one fan explains ‘….’”
We should try in our reading during the weeks leading up to Essay 2 to locate examples of this type of writing, of writers who use frameworks, or simply instances of how writers make use of secondary and primary sources to support a claim. Then we should use those examples as models, models that we use in our own essays.
As you’re working through the readings and revisiting essays from earlier in the term, consider how various writers might help you frame a question you find interesting and that might serve to organize some ideas about your topic.
Adorno: Is serious music a subculture now? Or, how is punk the same as opera?
Williams: How does this song “support” the culture at large? Does it?
Holt and Frith: What are the networks, rules, etc. that define this genre?
Hebdige: What are the forces pulling the subculture together and against what?
Bourdieu: How does this song, genre, scene fit in with the social hierarchy? Does it limit or empower?
As with all college-level writing, you’ll develop your main claim across a logical series of paragraphs that are rich with evidence and analysis.