Music Ethnography and the Environmental Turn
The environmental turn potentially pushes us towards either new kinds of determinism or new kinds of epistemological fragmentation (as it decenters the human subject). Post-humanist philosopher Jane Bennett writes of a ‘heuristic’ or ‘strategic’ anthropomorphism that strives to keep human accountability and responsibility firmly in the frame (Bennett 2010). Some radical new lines of thought about the environments and elements of planetary life – air (Davies 2023), carbon (Devine 2015), and water (Silvers 2018) amongst others – have advanced an ambitious agenda in music studies recently. But might a music anthropology be tasked with a more specific response to Bennett’s challenge? How might music and sound figure in such a ‘framing’? What are the stakes of a ‘heuristic anthropomorphism’ from the perspectives of today’s music studies? Lectures and masterclass will consider how to imagine the theoretical and political space ‘beyond landscape’ collaboratively and more capaciously.
In the series of three public lectures, I will discuss both recent and ancient thinking about water and its relationship to landscape, cities and human life, focusing on my recent research along the Euphrates, and asking an (initially) simple question: how is music implicated in the struggle over water, and how is water implicated in the struggle over music – ‘struggle’ here admitting the possibility of agencies beyond the human? The question opens up a broader space of ethnographic inquiry and engagement I will label ‘hydropoetic’, taking my cue from some recent thinking in the anthropology of water.