Sociology 2533
Sociology of Art & Culture
(Peter Weeks, Spring, 2002)

Course Description:
From sacred didactic narratives and tools of propaganda to aesthetic objects of reverence and commodities for status acquisition, the arts have enjoyed many roles in society. Employing various sociological perspectives, this course will explore the nature of "art in society" by looking at how art objects are produced, distributed, and consumed.

Theoretical perspectives will be related to historical and contemporary examples from a range of artistic media ¾ with special emphasis upon music, painting, architecture, and photography ¾ to explore the interplay between art and society, as well as the interrelations among the different arts themselves.

The role of technology in the various arts is another theme. Reproductive technology as, for example, in photographs of paintings and music recordings, has allowed for the 'consumption' of art works in settings far removed in time and place from their original settings ¾ thus changing their meanings. Recent digital technologies have had further implications.

The focus of this course is not confined to 'the fine arts', but also explores aspects of 'popular culture'. The relations between them in terms of a hierarchy raises further issues for us to examine.

Music recordings, photographs, and videos will be used for illustrations and for stimulating discussion.

Required Text:
The instructor has assembled a set of readings under the title, Readings in the Sociology of Art & Culture - to be available for purchase from the university bookstore.

Assignments & Evaluation:
Marks are allocated as follows:

A. Learning Journals 25%
The purpose of the learning journal is to accumulate a series of observations and critical commentaries on such things as music encountered in a given setting, aesthetic or design aspects, architecture that you notice. This provides an opportunity to apply and make connections among the ideas and concepts that you are learning. Students are expected to purchase a bound notebook for journal entries or a binder into which they can be assembled.

B. Class Participation 20%
This involves class discussion and/or in-class written reports on issues arising from the assigned readings. Attendance is a component of this item.

C. Midterm 20%
Essay-style questions provide an occasion to synthesize your knowledge and display the cumulative connections among central concepts.

D. Formal essay or project demonstration/presentation 35%
This consists of an essay on one of the listed topics. If you wish to select another topic, please consult the Instructor first. An alternative to an essay is a project/demonstration which you may present to the class.

List of Topics:

1. Introduction:
(a) What is a sociological perspective on art - in relation to insider accounts?
(b) social concepts of art & culture,
(c) hierarchies in art worlds,
(d) fine art vs. popular or commercial art or culture.

2. Social functions and uses of the arts.
(a) comparisons across societies & over time,
(b) "cultural stratification", "cultural capital".
(c) political uses - including protest,
(d) commercialization of music (including "elevator music" as background, etc.)

3. Structural support systems & audiences for artists (historical & macro perspectives):
(a) from patronage to marketability,
(b) government & other sponsorship of high-status art.
(c) the "cultural industries"

4. Forms of art in relation to forms of social structure:
(a) arguments from homology, e.g. John Shepherd, Alan Lomax. Correspondence among the different arts at any one time,
(b) differential participation in art forms by social position,
(c) relation between Functional Harmony tradition and Afro-American music - as in jazz & rock.

5. The Art Object as a Social Process:
(a) Becker's Art Worlds as a leading form of this type of analysis. Art works as the result of collective work efforts - in contrast with the idea of the uniqueness and genius of the individual artist,
(b) changing division of labour in different arts & over time.
(c) conventions in 'artworlds'.

6. Technology & Art:
(a) Walter Benjamin on the work of art that is technologically reproduced,
(b) the role of notation in the performing arts,
(c) the history & effects of sound recording technology.
(d) Changing role of the technician in relation to the musicians in the production of pop music.
(e) impact of the Internet.

7. Uses of music and visual arts in advertising & popular entertainment:
(a) 'cultural studies' perspectives,
(b) prevalence of images,
(c) sound & picture in movies & music videos.
(d) the use of classical music in advertising, movie themes, etc.

8. Photography:
(a) introduction to & brief history of photography,
(b) conception of photography as noninterfering, objective observation,
(c) artistic photographs. Debates on whether photography is an art.
(d) relation to the subject or event,
(e) interpretive practices in the production & reception of photographs.
(f) implications of digitalization.

1006 Introduction to Sociology
2513 Sociology of Communication
2533 Sociology of Art and Culture
2613 Sociology of Gender
3023 Modern Sociological Theory
3513 Sociology of Education
3523 Sociology of Knowledge
3563 Sociology of Music
4033 Advanced Sociological Theory


Dr. Peter Weeks / Sociology / Faculty / STU Homepage