In Media/Society: Technology, Industries, Content, and Users, David R. Croteau and William Hoynes (2019, p. 13) define agency as follows, adding an example from education:
Agency is intentional and undetermined human action. Human agency reproduces—or sometimes changes—social structure. . . . With education, students have some leeway in what they study, how much time and energy they spend on schoolwork, and whether or not they even continue their studies. But, overall, their actions typically reinforce an existing model of education that has evolved only modestly in the last century. . . . [W]hile structure constrains agency, it is human agency that either alters or maintains social structures.
Rojek, on page 76 of Pop Music, Pop Culture, writes:
Whereas structuralism foregrounds the desiderata that are alleged to condition or determine individual and group action, the agency perspective launches from the position of the knowledge, motivation and action of social actors to transform history and socio-economic contexts. It takes for granted that the central defect of the structuralist approach is to deny creativity, variation and cultural difference. . . . Against this, agency approaches emphasize the creativity and aesthetic contribution of artists and audiences and their attempt to make meaning and act upon society and history. The caveat here is that subjective choice and practice are conceived not as autonomous, but as entwined in fields of knowledge and power that prioritize specific types of embodiment, recognition and conduct.
Pick one or two texts/writers we have read or read about, up to and including Week Five, the week of this assignment’s deadline. These texts may also be e.g. individual perspectives (Plato/Aristotle, relationism, etc.) discussed by Rojek in our textbook. Using examples from your own experience and/or various music-related media, explain where these texts/writers locate listeners’ and/or musicians’ agency. What, according to these texts/writers, is our agency in our everyday listening or in our musical performances? Where do these authors find “intentional and undetermined human action” or “the creativity and aesthetic contribution of artists and audiences and their attempt to make meaning and act upon society and history”? Do these texts/writers allow for agency at all?
Further notes/recommendations (also remember to revisit the syllabus for further information):
- Be sure to use the space you have efficiently. Choosing just one text may be enough if you have strong arguments in your discussion of its up- and downsides and if you bring in carefully selected ideas from other texts for comparison. Two texts/writers may work well for a comparison.
- While, of course, short summaries of selected texts’/writers’ main arguments should be included in your text, be sure to focus on the application of their ideas to your examples, and focus on your critical evaluation of these ideas. To quote the syllabus: “How do the readings help us to understand the relationship between popular music and everyday life? Do these readings speak to your personal experience as a consumer or producer of music? Are there alternative ways of thinking about what the readings discuss? If so, what are they?”
- Be sure to isolate the key arguments of the texts you focus on. Don’t feel like you have to explain a text’s/writer’s minor lines of thought. Instead, take a reading’s key point and engage with it through evidence as well as comparison.