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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Hearing Heredity: Sound, Music, and Evolution in the Twentieth-Century U.S.
by Modell, Amanda R., Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2019, 184; 13808198
Abstract (Summary)

Hearing Heredity examines how evolutionary and racial assumptions have shaped music education, scholarship, and distribution in the twentieth-century United States. Using archival and ethnographic methods, along with theories from feminist studies, science and technology studies, and critical race theory, the dissertation reveals how logics imported from the biological sciences have naturalized musical categorizations by affiliating certain sounds with certain bodies. “Hearing heredity,” a socially situated listening tendency that draws together ideas about race, genetic ancestry, musical capacity, and genre, allows this to happen. This is because ideologies of racialized sound implicitly draw credibility from the natural sciences, and this dissertation documents how musical forms can provide cover for biological determinist assumptions. While ethnomusicologists and musicologists are increasingly self-reflective about issues of categorizations and representations in scholarship, some fundamental assumptions remain unchallenged. Accordingly, this work challenges longstanding ideas that have shaped the constructions of sub-fields within music studies and genres in the music industry. Hearing Heredity spans the twentieth century to unravel the ways in which music education, categorization, distribution, and scholarship have been interwoven with eugenic and evolutionary ideas that support problematic power relations based in race, gender, class, and ability.

In four case studies, this dissertation demonstrates how eugenics, genetics, physical anthropology, and computer science have unintentionally inscribed ideas of musicality in bodies and groups of people. These case studies range from the hallowed halls of music conservatories to the stages of black southern vaudeville, and from the vaults of the Library of Congress to online music streaming. All told, these case studies cover a century of evolution-influenced listening practices that extend from music education to distribution to scholarship. Over the twentieth century, these evolutionary ideologies have recast racist taxonomies and “naturalized” ideas of racialized sound in new forms, while the underlying assumptions persist. Understanding the ways in which power operates in these diverse yet connected musical contexts can make space to intervene in these power relations, working towards more capacious understandings of musicality, possibility, and change.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cogdell, Christina
Commitee: Wang, Grace, Bissett Perea, Jessica, Levy, Beth
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Cultural Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Science history, Womens studies
Keywords: Blues, Eugenics, Evolution, Music, Race
Publication Number: 13808198
ISBN: 9781085599368
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