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volume 4
may 2001

Symbolism and practice


  A theory for the social meaning of pop music
  by Paul E. Willis
  When the seventies turned into the eighties Cultural Studies made a deep impact on social science. For many critical sociologists and psychologists the Centre of Cultural Studies of Birmingham — the Birmingham School — became an important source of inspiration. The "Stencilled Occasional Papers", issued by the CCCS, showed them how to study culture not as a monolithic whole but as a changing pattern of cultural practices by which people import meaning into their daily experiences. Here we reprint one of those papers — a theoretical one — on the subject of pop music. It was written more than twenty-five years ago, in 1974, by Paul Willis who later became known as the author of some very influential books like Profane Culture (1978), Learning to Labour (1979), Common Culture (1990) and more recently The Ethnographic Imagination (2000).

  I. The meaning of culture
1 Rather than approach the cultural behaviour of young people in this country through an empirical listing of new techniques, activities and forms I have chosen in this paper to confront some of the theoretical questions behind the whole category of culture, and to suggest a theory about the relation of social practice and expressive symbolism. Without such a theoretical stance, in my view, there is the danger of our analysis degenerating into a descriptive listing of new phenomena which has no explanatory power at the social plane at all. After establishing the elements of a theory of cultural relation I shall proceed to empirical evidence. This will not, however, constitute anything like a full presentation of the patterns of cultural activity in this country, and will have no quantitative reliability.
2 Furthermore, though the theoretical analysis is applicable to any expressive form, I shall be concerned only with pop music and its surrounding complex of symbolic values and activities. The central assumption of the concluding section, that for most young people in this country, and especially for working class youngsters, the received expressive forms such as theatre, ballet, opera, novels are irrelevant, and that pop music is their only major expressive outlet, will go uncontested. Though it may upset the positivist, such a proposition is taken for granted, and the purpose of the analysis is to investigate the nature and meaning of the connection between the mass of young people and a widely disseminated, commercially mediated musical form.
3 First, I would like to examine some of the unspoken theories and theoretical sets behind our discourse on "culture". This is the most treacherous of words, and its ambiguous shiftings conceal the precise nature of theories and epistemologies which go under its name. For the use of "culture" always implies a theory about the role of expressive artefacts in social existence. One infection of the term, pulls with it the meaning of several other terms and categories, so that an apparently isolated and common sense use of the word in fact fixes the whole perspective of an argument, often in a way which passes unnoticed to the reader. 
4 In our current debate there seem to me to be two dominant "sets" or "perspectives" lying behind the innocent use of the word "culture". Both are damaging to what I take to be a truly social analysis.
  1. Culture as serious art
5 In the first case culture is used to mean the best of those serious activities separated from everyday life which are meant to express absolute values about the nature of human existence in a medium which is disciplined, self conscious and often difficult to master. This view of culture is a direct descendant of, sometimes even the same as, so-called High Art and its classical Greco-Roman tradition. Even in the more experimental and progressive areas, though the content of the great tradition has been democratized somewhat, and though the scope for experimentation has been widened, and though there is often a self-conscious concern with contemporary feelings, the essential assumptions are those of High Art. Art is away from life, judged for itself, autonomous in its functions and values, and ultimately based on detached logo-centric meaning.
6 The crippling thing about this view of culture, which is also a view of appropriate cultural activity, and a view of the proper scope for cultural analysis, is that it remains analytically blind to its own social placement. From this flows a totally reified view of cultural transmission and from this a perpetually outdated perspective on organic or grass root developments in expressive forms.
7 The integrating belief of culture as separated, heightened, serious activity is the unquestioned value of artistic forms and activities — the supreme placing of Art above the shiftings of whatever social relations exist beneath it. For the adherents of this view Art is classless, timeless and the ultimate touchstone for what is just, human and beautiful. Through shifting sands of circumstance and fortune Art is the only guarantor of worth. Art is the only repository of quintessential human values, the only absolute benchmark in a world of relativism and moral duplicity.
8 This is a tempting and comforting view of Art, particularly to those for whom the social systems they live under do indeed repress and distort basic human potentiality. Though we may salute these noble cries to heaven we must distrust in serious art any principle which seems to offer an absolute route from bondage and misery. For serious art does not constitute an objective, supra-social matrix from which poor humans can plot their social development to a more advanced society. For serious art, just as our misery, is a social category. It is constituted, reconstituted and made meaningful at all by a social group. And in all societies this group is the elite. What look like the autonomous all-time absolute values embodied in art, are in fact chosen quite relativistically by the elite.
9 The great tradition [1] does not select itself, not autonomously offer its absolute values to save new generations from themselves. Contemporary values select the serious art rather than the reverse, and the selective values are those of the elite. It is true that tradition offers artefacts from the past that are therefore undetermined by the moment, and also true that the moment cannot freely chose to value what does not yet exist in the world. But tradition does not determine the content of serious art, it supplies only the range that contemporary taste can chose from and interpret in its own way. In all the sleeping libraries are ten thousand possible presents. The moving finger is not the value of what exists, but the choice of the living.
10 It is unimaginable then that a serious art can maintain its own trajectory without being related to a quite specific group. We should be wary of Art as deus ex machina come to right our puny world. All things of this world are ultimately the product of men and women. But the adherents of the view of culture as serious art fail to recognize operationally their art is at bottom an aspect of the social existence of the elites. They see only the salvationary absolutism of the artistic artefact — they reify Art. In the sacredness of their abeyance to Art, they miss the profanity of real relations. They spirit away the real nature of serious art — the conflation of an elite with received symbolic values — in their enthusiasm for what they take to be the intrinsic quality of Art.
11 This reification of certain qualities of serious art, the refusal to see the ultimate social base for what they take to be an internal aesthetic, leads to a potential deadness at the heart of cultural activity. The model of cultural transmission is that serious and worthwhile art somehow carries on by itself, and any dialectical connection of form and content to contemporary concerns and feelings is denied. There is the continuous danger of taking what is only the cultural expression of the social position of the elite at one stage in a developing society as the absolute contours of Art, and maintaining this configuration artificially long after its true social congruence to the real living concerns of a group has disappeared.
12 The elite of course is able to do itself this disservice all the more efficiently because of its privilege and control over resources and institutions. Parallel, though subordinate, cultural configurations amongst the working class have neither the same tendency to internal reification, not the relevant power, to maintain themselves beyond the point of strict, living relevance. In certain respects then working class cultural formations may enjoy real advantages over elitist bourgeois formations. One must not exaggerate this however. The elitist culture is the dominant culture and despite its weaknesses can impress itself across large areas. Besides if the proposition concerning the social basis of cultural forms is right, then it would hold sway even over the reification of serious art, even despite itself, becomes progressively updated. We can expect in this process though, strange and irrelevant displacements, and outdated forms being worked to their last point of decadence and meaningless posture, before being pushed aside by new though still lagged expressive forms.
13 At bottom serious art is finding it tremendously difficult if not impossible, to break with its long roots in the meaning and logo-centricity of its Greco-Roman tradition. In an age whose wealth, developing social relations, superb technical mastery of nature, might offer qualitatively different and hugely relevant expressive forms, serious art even in its non-classical dimensions is still struggling, albeit at its outer infringes, with essentially anachronistic bourgeois expressive forms. Proletarian and mass forms of cultural expression though subordinated and in no sense a true form of mature development, may show us the kindlings of a new and relevant mode of expressing unreified-modern concerns and feelings.
14 If this line of reasoning has any validity at all we should be particularly alerted by new mass youth cultural forms of expression. In the modern industrial age, where physical and mental maturity occur long before induction in to the bureaucratic / welfare / industrial complex, the teenage interlude is the most important and most problematical period for the reproduction of conventional attitudes, values and practices. In distorted, displaced, exploited and manipulated forms we may see fleetingly the elements of new expressive forms, before the dominant processes of social reproduction at this stage of development close in. A "cultural" perspective based ultimately though covertly in the perspective of serious art can never hope to pick up these flickers.
15 The argument here then is that a method of cultural analysis grounded in the unspoken theory of "culture" as the activities surrounding serious art, is badly equipped to uncover the social meaning of new grass roots cultural activity. Implicitly such a position denies the possibility of the inner social connection of an art form to any social group, it restricts the epistemology of enquiry to the modus operandi of elitist culture, it is inherently blind to the possibilities of new and relevant expressive forms. In short such a perspective can only consider modern non-elitist expressive forms as if they were elitist serious forms. It should surprise no one that shortfall is always found, it has no other measures.
  2. Culture as quantitative relations
16 The second major perspective lazing innocently behind the use of the word "culture" is very different. It is a sub-discipline of the much larger and all pervasive academic ideology of positivism. The essential integrative belief of this perspective is that measurement of surface qualities, and correlation of measurements, can reveal real connections. In the field of cultural research this approach is certainly free from elitist overtones, and certainly recognizes the possibility of the connection between social structure and cultural activity. The specific theories are multiform and well represented in the publication from the last conference. [2] American and English media research, statistical breakdowns of audiences, time budgeting research, content analysis of artefacts, are all grouped under the general heading of positivistic research.
17 Though the role of such work cannot be denied, and though there is still much of a "factual" nature to be learnt, I want to suggest that such studies can only ever "point to" a phenomenon. They can chart the extent of particular activities, draw our attention to particular co-variations and connections, expand in the fullest way our essentially descriptive knowledge of modern cultural phenomena. What such work cannot do however is to explain the significance, meaning or subjective experience of these phenomena. Positivism in research allows the fullest possible mapping of a culture, but for all that, the culture is still a strange land; we are still no nearer to understanding what it is like to live in, or to understanding why it is like that.
18 One of the central failings of positivism in social enquiry is its failure to penetrate symbolic, layered systems. [3] A group or a person is never related to a culture in a simple one to one fashion, or in a direct linear fashion. A teenager does not listen to one record in a vacuum, and then to another record, she is not affected by so many degrees immediately by one exposure to a record, or even a type of record. Experience is not atomized in that way, and people live their expressive lives as a symbolic whole. The youth is related at any one time to the whole intricate and complex phenomenon of youth culture. He lives inside this world, is immediately part of this world, lives out its meaning at several levels at different moments. Any one piece or type of music, any one set of experiences, any set of activities, is always taken in the light of the subjective and usually non-verbal understanding of the whole complex of the pop world scene, and its surrounding attitudes, values and symbolic systems. The "use" made of any particular element in this symbolic whole depends on the rest of the system, and the individual's or group's self recognition of their position within this system. An outside view of the manifest meaning of any particular aspect of this symbolic system, may miss altogether the latent meanings, the reinterpretations, the accepted unspoken meanings that the actors involved may locate in that aspect.
19 What we are confronted with is a whole way of life interpenetrated by a whole symbolic system, not a series of discrete bits of behaviour alongside a series of discrete cultural artefacts. The meaning of any particular elements of behaviour, or of any isolated expressive work, rests totally on its intricate relations with other parts of the whole integrated cultural system. Even all the constituent parts, assuming one could isolate them, taken separately and only for their manifest qualities, would never amount to the actual culture — they would just be a meaningless random collection of human pieces. In order to see the spirit move in those pieces one has to reach for the central unifying symbolic concepts that are deposited in no single-artifact or activity, but only in the dialectical relation of all parts to each other. Positivism, limited as it is, to the surface of things, the manifest and the misleading, can never do this, it can only give us the shapes of all the jig saw pieces, never the picture on them.
20 Another crucial failure of positivism is its inability to reconstruct, or even register the subjective experience of social actors, Surely a theoretical / intellectual perspective on human behaviour requires a capacity, a potential which need not necessarily be realized, to respond to the raw material of human experience in commensurate terms. Though we may readily agree that a truly social explanation of human activity needs to go beyond the subjective accounts rendered by participant actors, a theory which has no way of accrediting the primary level of human experience — subjective experience — proceeds with a missing centre. The focus of enquiry surely must always be woman / man and his / her of his / her relationships to the world. Without this non-quantifiable discipline of human relevance — a very much more demanding mistress than mathematical discipline — our studies may as well concern atoms on the Mars as humans on Earth.
21 Looking more closely at the field of rock, those studies which give us the quantitative dimensions of the phenomenon, though useful as a first stage to other kinds of enquiries, for themselves give only a long-winded statement of the obvious, or as they become more ambitious, a huge tautology. We are told in effect that most kids like pop, and they like it because they like it. Without any kind of cutting edge in to the subjective plane, and crucially differences between various groups, there is no way of avoiding the view of pop as, both a great monolithic entity — the thing that all those kids like — and, as a totally shallow epiphenomenon — kids like pop because: it is simple, bright, colourful or whatever. Only by coming at the subjective experience of real individuals and real groups involved in the music can we break out of these massive simplicities to suggest some of the real and complex bases of connection between the music and the lives of the young people.
22 If we understand some of the central concerns of particular groups, if we have an insight in to what they expect from the music, if we can penetrate the symbolic and expressive dimensions of an integrated life experience, then we shall have a base from which to assess the role of pop as a living and dialectically interrelated element of a whole life style. It may well be, of course, that we continue to look at more structural and "objective" factors in order to come to an appreciation of the totality of the phenomenon, but unless we have proceeded through the located and subjective moment we can never do more than juxtapose life and artefact in a way which is essentially random, and external to the inner connections which should be the business of social enquiry.
23 Another related weakness of positivistic enquiry is its trust in the immediate verbal response. In the general way we should bear in mind C. Wright Mills' injunction about the discrepancy between "talk and action" — people's actions often belie their words. In the area of pop music — and cultural phenomenon in general — we should be wary even more than usually of the verbal response. I have argued that cultural configurations ought properly to be considered as complex symbolic systems, rather than as atomized conjunctions of bits of behaviour and "bits of culture" deposited in artefacts. If this is correct, then we should expect the symbolic meanings to be manifested at several levels of social activity, from interaction to bodily expressivity to clothes styles and fashion. There are good reasons to suppose that the self conscious verbal level of expressivity is one of the least favoured modes for the expression of these symbolic values. Self conscious articulate awareness is a characteristic of the dominant strata of society, and is the main instrument of its cultural hegemony [4] over the less powerful groups.
24 Now young people involved in pop culture are excluded from this dominant order in two ways. Firstly the vast majority of young people involved with pop music are working class, and share along with the rest of their class, an inability to articulate their meanings in an abstract verbal manner. Even those individuals and groups with the advantages of a traditional privileged education refuse to mobilize it in the youth cultural context for reasons we shall see in a moment. Secondly, young people are separated off in to something like a class which is excluded from the privileges and modes of expression of the dominant class, simply by age. Even though young people are maturing earlier today, the point at which they are being allowed in to adult relations of work and consumption is being delayed longer and longer. We should be clear that "youth" is much more of a social than a biological category. The years, then, between the achievement of adult tastes and motives, and the achievement of the normative and structural outlets for these impulses, represent to some extent a time of cultural oppression and exclusion.
25 Part of the class and age oppression, as it bites on the young person's world, is the suppression of articulate self-consciousness. The symbolic meanings at the heart of the relationship with pop are therefore forced to other media for their expression.
26 This displacement is not, however, totally the result of coercion, or deprivation. In so far as young people form a distinctive group, whether bounded by age, class or gender share common concerns and interests which are, to some extent, antagonistic to those of the dominant order. The symbolic expression of their position which achieves any cultural resonance whatsoever will therefore reflect this opposition — it will to that extent be subversive. The dominant order and its modes of cultural control have no reason, of course, to tolerate subversion. Though we need not point to any individual malice or conspiracy there are clear processes (often under capitalism related to commercial rationality) which act either to suppress or to incorporate challenging new forms of cultural expression.
27 Certainly there are those who argue that the process of incorporation of pop is now complete, and that the original spark of rebellion has been inducted as an element of fashion in to a highly successful industry of cultural consumption. At any rate youth cultural forms, in fact any oppositional cultural forms, which can protect their internal workings from the vision of the dominant cultural interests will survive very much longer. Hence we should suspect that the most trenchant and important meanings of youth culture are buried well out of the reach of conventional language — the mode par excellence by which the dominant culture penetrates and takes over other cultures. We may expect that really crucial meanings are embodied at non-verbal levels, "coded" so to speak in such a way that outsiders are unable to interpret. Nor is this coding simply the same message being printed off at another level, it is the symbolization of a totality of experience at several levels — a view of life embedded in a way of life that defies the extraction of its symbolic heart as ratio-scientific meaning.
28 Positivistic techniques, verbal enquiries, questionnaires, aimed at the verbal level are therefore inadequate. The skill to articulate central meanings does not usually exist in the respondents and even where they do they are not used. There is every reason for the respondent to deny the invitation to take their experiences out of the totality of their life situations and render them in a diminished and only too appropriable a form.
29 The lack of articulate response from youth cultural groups has often been taken as proof of the inherent inadequacy and meaninglessness of the culture surrounding pop music. Certainly to the dominant canons of logo-centric meaning, there is very little to pick up, and the cultural forms are not trying to present themselves as parallel or assimilable forms — to the traditional bourgeois mind much of youth culture really is meaningless. However rather than take this as evidence of the non-viability of these cultural forms, we should take it as the primary, condition for their social viability.
30 I should like now to suggest a theory of "culture", and an approach to the social meaning of culture, which is based neither on the terms of "High Art" nor in terms of positivism.
  II. A theory for the social relation of cultural forms: the case of pop music
31 The heart of what I understand to be "culture" is in the relation of wo/man's consciousness, individual and collective, to the objects, and artefacts, both functional and expressive, around her. The study of either of these areas alone will not constitute a study of human culture. It does not matter theoretically whether we understand the objects in this relation to be expressive or functional, or indeed whether they are natural or wo/manmade. The essential and defining feature of culture I take to be the relationship of wo/man to all the objects and artefacts s/he is consciously involved with. The whole culture of a society or group is the sum of all such relationships. Here we are concerned with the relationship of young people to pop music. I suggest that this cultural relation can be understood, and analysed at three levels: (a) the indexical; (b) the homological; (c) the integral.
32 This approach represents an attempt to honestly recognize, and bridge, the different levels in an interpretative analysis. The indexical level of analysis is the least interpretative of all the levels, and can be taken independently of all the other levels. The homological and integral levels are progressively more interpretative, and progressively further from simple "objective proof". They bear witness to the fact that the more explanatory an analysis becomes, the less sure is the empirical grounding of the approach.
  a. The indexical level of cultural relation
33 The indexical level of analysis, and of cultural relation, concerns the degree to which pop music is related to a social group in a general quantitative sense, i.e. for how long a group listens to pop music, where and how often, how much the group spends on pop, what their specific tastes are. The analysis is indexical precisely because the interest is in assessing how the artefact is "indexed" to the life style, how far it is located in a natural human context — a contextualization that the indexical stage of the analysis simply recognizes and records, without an interpretative stage intervening to confuse the issue, or to decontextualize the music. This level of analysis can often be presented in the words of the actors themselves and can be uncovered at a verbal level, though clearly observation is an important adjunct to verbal accounts. Positivistic techniques have their greatest appropriateness here.
34 The indexical level of analysis therefore presents in the simplest possible way the minimum case for the existence of a cultural relation between a life style and an artefact. The indexical formation of culture is to be seen wherever a human group is in contact with a particular artefact or object. Clearly most of us have an indexical cultural relationship with many, many artefacts and objects from houses and cars, to pop music, to Coronation Street, to natural landscapes. The variation of the indexical level is a quantitative one. It can record differences in duration and frequency of exposure to music but cannot explain the significance of these variations.
  b. The homological level of cultural relation
35 This level of analysis is concerned with the type and quality of the relationships which the indexical stage of the analysis has identified for us. Essentially it is concerned with how far, in its structure and content, the music parallels and reflects significant values and feelings of the particular social group involved with it. Such analysis is homological because it investigates what are the correspondences, the similarities of internal relation, between a style of life and an artefact or object. Basic homologies are best understood in terms of structure and style, though it may be possible at times to identify homologies of content. The essential base of a homological culture relation is that an artefact or object has the ability to reflect, resonate and sum up crucial values, states, and attitudes for the social group involved with it. The artefact or object must consistently serve the group with the meanings, attitudes and certainties it wants, and it must support and return, and substantiate central life meanings. One can understand this partly as communication, but much more profoundly it should be understood as a process of cultural resonation, and concretization of identity.
36 Homological analysis of a cultural relation is synchronic, that is the analysis takes a cross section of the nature of the relationship at one period in time. The homological notion itself is not equipped to account for changes over time, or to account for the creation, or disintegration of homologies; it records the complex qualitative state of a cultural relationship as it is observed in one quantum of time.
37 An homological relationship occurs where a particular group is deeply involved with an artefact or object, and clearly takes meaning at some level from the artefact or object, and clearly pursues involvement with it. We are all related to several artefacts and objects at an homological level, but it is likely that we will only be significantly related to a few of them, and a meaningful relation is more likely with an expressive artefact, than with a functional artefact or a natural object, though this is by no means a consistent rule.
38 There are two stages of homological analysis, (i) a study of the social group and (ii) a study of the music.
  (i) The social group
39 It is here principally that non-positivistic qualitative techniques are required. [5] The aim is to construct the symbolic patterns, attitudes and values embedded in the life style of a group. This task is best approached through a cluster of methodologies. A process of "triangulation" of the evidence from the different sources gives the maximum possibility of the final phenomenal account of the group's subjective reality being as free from bias as possible. I list the elements of this cluster of methods [6] below and give a brief explanation of what each entails:
40 1. Participant Observation. The act of observing whilst participating in the normal round of social and work contacts of the group under study.
41 2. Observation. The distinction between this and the previous technique is that in some situations it is impossible to "participate" in the full sense of the word, although detailed and careful observation is certainly possible. Simple observation is a crucial adjunct to other methods because only a limited number of meanings are articulated by social groups at verbal level. Verbal approaches alone to the social group are very limited, and produce evidence only of a verbal kind. Observations of behaviour, style and appearance can go both to cross-check evidence received at a verbal level and to suggest completely new areas of the actor's meaning system which are opaque to verbal questioning.
42 3. Just Being Around. This is the more general process where the researcher, whilst not actually participating in social interaction, is all the same importantly immersed in it. It is not only useful but vital in the early stages of the research, where the researcher is concerned to get a sense of the new frame of reference, without letting his own preconceptions obscure the field. It is only after this process of immersion that the researcher can move on to the more detailed, in-close techniques. In many areas it is also the only feasible method of data collection. More generally, the atmosphere and quality of the entire research depends on how well the researcher has felt the whole social ambience of the group he or she is studying.
43 4. Group Discussions. Since the group presence is likely to act as a check on the distortion of feelings and experiences, the group discussion is likely to be a privileged source of evidence about group feelings. Furthermore, the most useful data in this kind of research comes from unsolicited statements from subjects, and where a group discussion can proceed without the prompting of the researcher, open-ended discussions can "take off" and provide data of an unsolicited kind. Discussions constitute the most useful source of detailed and available data about the actor's attitudes and opinions as expressed in the verbal mode.
44 5. Recorded Discussions. This has the same advantages as (4) plus the obvious extra advantage of yielding the fullest possible written data about the actors' attitudes and values expressed at the verbal level. The major disadvantage with this technique is that the physical presence of the tape recorder may bring an artificiality to the situation which disrupts the normal ongoing social process. It may also lend an air of formality to proceedings which are basically informal, and need to be informal, for the generation of the kind of data we are interested in. With careful management and appropriate use, however, these dangers can be minimized. The main essentials are that the tape recorder is introduced only when the situation is developing naturally towards some kind of group discussion and is withheld no matter with what impatience, if its introduction would unnaturally affect the course of events.
45 6. Informal Interviews. Individual actors are not always involved in ongoing interaction with social groups. During such times, by way of "just talking", the researcher can gain valuable information about the subject's basic feelings and attitudes. Such data can be used in an important comparative way; it can be placed alongside data covering similar grounds gained in other ways, such as in the group discussion. The course of such interviews should be totally open, and responsive to whatever situation or problem is confronting the subject at the time.
46 7. Use of Existing Surveys. Wherever possible it is always best to make maximum possible use of existing surveys and reports concerning the specific phenomenon under study, no mutter what their theoretical perspective, to "map the field" and "cross check" other sources of evidence.
  (ii) The music
47 Broadly there seem to be three possibilities in the analysis of the music appreciated by the social group. It could be argued that the "value" of the music is totally socially given. That is, that the music itself is a cipher, without inherent structures of meaning and value, and that it is the group that reads value into it. There is extreme difficulty, of course, in explaining why it should be pop music, and not some other form, that is specifically taken as the receptacle of socially created meanings and values. One could only explain this in terms of historical accident, by which at a certain point in time in the past the art form is fused with certain values by a certain group. It could be that a certain group is naturally exposed to certain music, so that proximity breeds a relationship which is, in the beginning, accidental in the sense that there is nothing intrinsic in the art form which makes it, and no other form, suitable for a certain group.
48 Once this original point of contact is made, through what I called historical accident, then the process becomes more straightforwardly understandable. Because the original group value the art form; later groups take over what they imagine to be established ways of looking at it and appreciating the form. Accumulation and substantiation through time could develop into what looks like a fully-blown "aesthetic" of the art form, so that group members themselves would assume values and meanings to be located within the art form rather than in their perceptions of it. Other art forms may be rejected on the apparent basis of their intrinsic inferiority. Values held to be within the art form may be defended as having a substantial and autonomous existence. In fact, those values, and those imagined superiorities, would be nothing more than the accumulated, located reflections of a particular way of life "read" into the music. In this sense, an art form would be a complex mirror linked to a memory bank, holding but without an intrinsic grasp, valued and significant images, derived in the first place from society.
49 Such a theory has many advantages of course. It gets over the problem of having to analyse the internal aesthetic of the art form. There would be no reason to attempt an analysis of the internal structure and quality of pop music, and the analysis could proceed totally in terms of the qualities ascribed to the artefacts from the outside. That is, the interest would not be in the art form per se, but in how the art form is received and acknowledged by the significant group. The interest would then be social and cultural, rather than aesthetic; it would fit into other aspects of our analysis without the problems of comparing like with unlike.
50 This is clearly one extreme approach. At the other extreme would be the view, derived from the "High Art" perspective, that the value of the art form is totally intrinsic and autonomous. This notion would suggest that an art form would always consist of the same immanent qualities, and would keep its integrity no matter what social group was responding to it. The first approach would suggest that different social groupings could see totally different things within the same art form, at least in so far as they had no knowledge of, or no influence upon, each other's tastes. To this extent, the art form would be different in itself, to different groups. The second view, then, would see the art form and the social group as totally independent. An analysis of the relationship would proceed through two stages. First, there would be the attempt to evaluate the internal aesthetic of the art form, in its own terms: an aesthetic which would be assumed to be universal. Secondly, there would be the attempt to place this against the life style of the particular group. Such an analysis would assume that the art form would be the same, although the profile may alter, no matter what vantage point the critic adopted.
51 In our first approach, the vantage point of the observer would totally determine the art form. In the second case the art form would not mirror back the social and cultural interests of the group related to it, but would stand in its own ground, with a universal, and unchangeable internal relation of parts and feelings. In some senses, it is easier to imagine an art form as having an independent objective existence, quite apart from its social location, This is a common sense view that recognizes the obvious physical separability of cultural artefacts, and accords the artist a distinctive and recognizable role as the creator of something specific, unique and valuable in the world. It would save us from the bottomless relativism of inter-dependencies, a course which, once started, threatens to challenge common sense meaning.
52 However, there are tremendous problems in the delineation of such a wholly internal aesthetic. The divergence of critical opinions, over time, and even within the same period, demonstrates that immanent qualities are less autonomous and "there" in the artefact than this pure theoretical position might seem to suggest. Furthermore, the currency of this analysis is intrinsically set in aesthetic terms. What is assumed to be an intrinsic aesthetic is clearly impenetrable by cultural and social concepts, terms generated from the outside. It can only be penetrated by terms generated from within, which can carry like meaning. Thus, the analysis of the art form producing terms of internal significance may be extremely difficult to place against the non "external" terms of social analysis. The two may never meet, except in the kind of spurious generalization that characterizes so much writing in the field of cultural criticism.
53 Finally, one could approach the art form at some point between these two extreme views. This is the position I adopt. My position is that the value and meaning of an art form is given socially, but within objective limitations imposed internally by the art form. Instead of an "aesthetic" I refer to objective possibilities within the art form. Instead of totally socially given meanings I suggest that social meanings are returned within certain parameters — fixed by the art form. Thus particular art forms are not seen us having inherent and unchangeable meanings and values; rather they are seen as having the potential to hold and return a range of meanings which are, in the first place, socially given. The art form has a certain chameleon quality; it can change according to which group is looking at it, and from where. However, there are limits to the ways it can be perceived, and these are not determined solely by social location and interests of the audience. Some kinds of social meanings for a particular art form will be held and reflected fully within it, others partially, and still others not at all. 
54 This kind of limitation will depend crucially on internal structures within the art form; but these internal parameters are not, as it were, always alive and fully operational. They only come alive and become capable of holding meaning when they are rubbed against the real life experience of a particular group. If this life experience is beyond the range of scope of these parameters, then very little will be returned and made socially significant. If the life experience falls within the parameters provided by the internal structures of this mark, then the social meanings are held; perhaps importantly modified in a creative relationship with these parameters, and returned to the social group. The parameters themselves, then, do not have meaning in the sense of a fully prescribed content. They both stake out the field of potential meaning and create an ambience in which certain types of meaning from the outside can flourish.
55 The objective possibilities are best understood as belonging more to the structure than the content of an artefact. It is the notion that in the design and fundamental orientation of the text certain categories or kinds of feeling are allowed a scope for meaningful development. (In a sense the objective possibilities are the crude outline of a particular "world view" which can supply the underpinning for more specific context-based meanings). The notion of an "aesthetic" places much too unique a construction upon this complex field of forces and would attach the status of meaning to that which is better understood as being capable of holding several potential meanings. The notion of "totally socially given meanings", on the other hand, ignores the objective existence of the artefact with its internal structures, which whilst not capable of generating fully formed meanings, all the same can prevent or encourage certain types of meaning.
56 These objective possibilities can be placed against the life style of the groups, or more exactly against the researcher's "organizing perspective" derived from the empirical evidence of the life style, and the musical tastes of the groups. This comparison is the vital step in homological analysis and is the basis for the assessment of the type and quality of the cultural relation between a group and its preferred music.
  c. The integral level of cultural relation
57 This level of analysis is concerned with the degree to which the two elements in a cultural relationship directly influence and modify one another. Integral analysis is likely to apply most fully to human relationships to expressive artefacts and least fully to relationships with natural objects. It is aimed at explaining both the historical generation of basic homologies, and the manner of their continued development in the present. Where the homological analysis was synchronic, the integral level of analysis is diachronic, or more exactly has a theoretical capacity to be diachronic. This third level is integral because it investigates the life style and activities of the group, and the music, as they form a whole, or as the elements fundamentally condition each other as part of a tight unitary system.
58 Firstly, the analysis would investigate the degree to which the music exerts and has exerted a direct creative influence on a life style, that is the way it not only reflects central attitudes, values and activities, but actually takes part in determining the nature of these things. The ways in which the music is capable of this include: the direct intervention of music in to action or emotion, i.e. being the stimulus of something new in the behaviour or experience of the listener which would not have occurred without the music; the ability to express blocked personal emotion in an unique way; the ability based on these previous two to directly exert an influence on the shape and form of an individual's or group's sensibilities.
59 Secondly this analysis would investigate the degree to which social group exert and has exerted a determining force on the creation of the music it enjoys and has been able to change the objective possibilities of such music. Simply, this would occur where the creative base of the music is and was in the social group, or the extended version of the social group, that the listener is part of.
60 Now if both these elements were present historically, that is that the music exerted an influence on consciousness, and the social group exerted an influence on the form of the music then it can readily be seen that a dialectical process will have occurred in which life and music were continually brought closer together in to basic homologies. It can also be readily seen that where both of these elements exist in the contemporary situation there will be a continuing tightening and substantiation of basic homologies.
61 If determinations flow in only one direction then it can also be seen that the process is very much more limited, and is not capable of continually developing fuller basic homologies. The obvious example here is in the cultural relation of a life style and consciousness to a natural object. There may well be determinations flowing from the object to the life style, but it is difficult to see determinations flowing in the other direction whilst the object is still "natural".
62 Where there is mutual determination I call this a process of integral circuiting. At a theoretical level I also want to suggest that where there is integral circuiting between a life style and an artefact, the power of the relationship will be sufficient to "drag in" other elements and strongly influence the form of their relation to the central life style of the group. I call this whirl pool effect integral mediation, so that for instance the powerful integral formation of the motor bike to the motor bike boys powerfully mediates many other aspects of the boys' relationship with artefacts and objects, and especially their relationship with pop music. The same is true of drugs in the "hippie" culture. A total cultural understanding then would take in to account all the relationships between a social group and the objects and artefacts around them, and the manner in which particularly potent integral circuits mediate other relationships, and indeed each other.
63 Just finally, from a theoretical point of view an integral circuit should continue to a final and unimaginable collapse of art and life. In fact this point is never reached because of what I call integral disintegration. This is where, for one reason or another, the integral circuit goes into reverse and basic homologies are slowly unwound. This might be caused by a decisive move of the creative locus of the artefact from the social group which appreciates it, or it might be caused by some kind of collapse of the objective possibilities of the music. To generalize, integral disintegration would occur, as it were, when one of the poles in the dialectic becomes unresponsive or even repellent to the other.
64 Clearly this final part of the analysis is the most interpretative of all the modes of analysis I have described. It cannot be approached through the verbal accounts of the actors involved, and has to make the fullest possible use of every mode of observation and interaction with the groups the researcher has open to him or her.
1. See R. William's discussion of the "selective tradition" and elites in: R. William, The Long Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961. Return to text
2. I. Bontinck (Ed.), New Patterns of Musical Behaviour. Wien: Universal Edition, 1974a. Return to text
3. For an extremely perceptive discussion of the limitations of positivism see: H. P. Rickman, Understanding and the Human Studies. London: Heinemann, 1970. Return to text
4. For a discussion of hegemony see: A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1973. Return to text
5. The best discussion of participant observation occurs in: J. Filstead (Ed.), Qualitative Methodology. Chicago: Markham, 1971; G.J. McCall, J.Z. Simmons (Ed.), Issues in Participant Observation. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1969; S.T. Bruijn, The Human Perspective in Sociology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Return to text
6. The notion of a "cluster" of methodologies is advanced by B.A. Turner in: Exploring the Industrial Subculture. London: MacMillan 1971. Return to text
  This paper was published originally as: Paul E. Willis (1974), Symbolism and practice. A theory for the social meaning of pop music. Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The University of Birmingham, Stencilled Occasional Paper, Sub and Popular Culture Series: SP 13, 1974.
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