Music practice as ethics
Evangelos Chrysagis (University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
The recent resurgence of interest in ethics within anthropology lacks an ethnographic focus on music practices. This paper argues that studying the ethical in terms of the musical provides empirical credence to the idea that ethical means should not necessarily be distinguished from ends.
Paper long abstract:
Anthropology has not been unique in its preoccupation with the ethical, forming part of a wider postwar turn to ethics in the humanities and social sciences. Foucault's schema of ethical self-cultivation, among others, has variably influenced several recent approaches, while his ideas are also echoed or directly taken up in a range of notable ethnographic monographs that grapple with ethical projects. Despite the thematic pluralism, there is no ethnographic work engaging with music. This is odd considering that several anthropologists have alluded to the ways in which music and sound are related to ethics but also how music practices exemplify central ideas and paradoxes about ethical cultivation. I suggest that music as a non-teleological field of action is particularly conducive to the ethnographic study of technologies of the self and epitomizes a conception of practice in which means and ends are conjoined. In doing so, I intend to go beyond the proposition that music is simply an additional way of ethnographically studying ethics. My aim is to attend to how music can uniquely contribute to our understanding of how ethical subjects come to be formed. This contribution is distinctively 'musical' because it seeks to examine not only how music 'fits' within an anthropology of ethics but how, if at all, we can come up with musical ways to think about ethics as a relational phenomenon.
When means and ends coincide: beyond 'utility'