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Agency and Domination in Communicative Performance

Author(s): Stephen Tipton Miles

Journal: Music and Arts in Action
ISSN 1754-7105

Volume: 1;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 30;
Date: 2009;
Original page

Keywords: experimental music | communicative action | social theory

Communicative approaches to musical composition and performance promote symbolic dialogue between performers and audiences, and seek to expand agency for all participants. Such approaches include the altering of performance rituals, the destabilizing of the performance space, and the use of interactive compositional structures. This paper explores the relationship of communicative performance practices to the social context in which they are conceived and experienced. How can communicative practices address the issue of domination while remaining truly dialogical? Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptions of the habitus and the field of cultural production emphasize the strategic action of agents: agents act in order to maximize real or symbolic capital. Jürgen Habermas readily acknowledges the prevalence of strategic action in social relations and in private speech acts, yet he argues in favor of communicative action as essential to the rehabilitation of the lifeworld in a democratic society. However, since Habermas pays little attention to the social status of speakers, his theory is vulnerable to the charge of being universalist and transcendental. The author argues that communicative performance practices create a dynamic space for the experience of communicative action, conducted through verbal and non-verbal means. Drawing on recent work of New Music New College, the author explains how issues of domination can be made thematic in experimental composition and performance, thus leading to reflexive awareness. In the context of the field of cultural production, such practices take on a strategic function, taking a position in the institutional debates about artistic and social value.
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