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Tutor profile: Elise C.

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Elise C.
PhD candidate at University of Pennsylvania
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Questions

Subject: Music

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Question:

What is the relationship between ethnomusicology and sound studies? How have the two areas of music study converged and diverged over time?

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Elise C.
Answer:

It might be argued that ethnomusicology has always been involved with sound studies, since its practitioners have often engaged with sounds that challenge conventional ideas of what constitutes “music” and their analyses of chants, sung poetry, ritual accompaniments, etc. The field of sound studies was thus well-situated to build on the early work of R. Murray Shafer in the 1960s and ‘70s in what is now termed acoustic ecology, and scholars such as Steven Feld asserted in the 80s new auditory horizons for ethnomusicologists (Schafer 1977; Feld 1994). In the following decades, many others have engaged in research which is fluidly situated between anthropology, musicology, acoustics, environmental studies, musical creativity, and more. In such work, listening and the auditory experience are conceived as essential components of human musicking and of the relationship between human lives and the spaces and places in which they are lived. These approaches have arguably provided expansive interdisciplinary insights into longstanding ethnomusicological concerns involving emplacement and displacement, identity construction, the politics of sound, etc. Today these are augmented by, for example, growing interests in music and ecology, or the complex relationships between geographical space and digital music cultures. The production of ethnographic writing, the musicological archive, and the recording industry became important to critical thinking, especially when scholars began to reevaluate the concept of “world music.” At the same time, new musicology in feminism and queer studies emerged, initiating a turn to pluralism in Western musicology. The field of popular music studies also consolidated as a different, but interrelated mode of affirming cultural relativity and diversity in the realm of cultural studies. In recent years, questions regarding music, sound, and nature have gained traction, as seen in the increased attention to composers involved in acoustic ecology (involved, simultaneously, as practitioners within and theorizers of the field); the presence of sound collectives using audio recordings and music scholarship to denounce environmental problems, and the emergence of so-called “new fields” of study, such as ecomusicology, biomusic, and zoomusicology. This corresponds to the institutionalization of sound studies as a disciplinary field, and a renewed questioning of the relative merits of “cultural” versus “musical” analysis in the Anglo-American musicological tradition, reflecting the difficulty of distinguishing between colonially-inflected disciplinary divisions of music studies in terms of musical object and method (musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, etc.) (Sterne 2012; Bull 2013). These questions about sound, music, and nature, the emergence of sound studies, and the debate on the analytical methods of musical disciplines direct us to a shifting conceptual idea of the acoustic in the humanities.

Subject: English

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Question:

In the literary and philosophical transcendentalist movement of the mid-nineteenth century, which writers were most influential? Explain key themes and ideas in transcendentalist American literature, as well as the notion of the “self” in this school of thought.

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Elise C.
Answer:

Transcendentalism is frequently associated with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, feminist theorist Margaret Fuller, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, among others (including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) Transcendentalists drew from Romanticism as well as a Unitarian critique of Puritan Calvinism to question contemporary society and advocate for people to cultivate their own individual understandings of the world. Progenitors of this movement advocated for resisting conformity and the contemporary church. Selecting from Puritanism, German Idealism, Eastern religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Persian Sufi beliefs) and others, transcendentalists assembled a composite set of values, including simplicity, self-reliance, and absolute faith in one's own instincts and perceptions. Emerson and Thoreau sought to practice this set of values through solitary retreats in nature. Reflecting on his own experience in the woods, Emerson wrote, “I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing; I see all; The currents of the universal being circulate through me,” thus disseminating the concept that perception is principally important and responsible for how humans relate to the world, and that the “self” contains multitudes (1836, 6). Emerson wrote about the purity of the individual as the basis for ideal communities, drawing from rationalist thought in his formulations of the spirit, mind, and soul. Thoreau, in turn, wrote of his retreat to Walden not as an isolated experience, but as an opportunity for introspection and communion with the self. Thoreau’s philosophical investment in nature is demonstrated in his richly catalogued account detailing the sounds of animal voices as a means for immersion in the environment. Attending to the import of perception, Thoreau notices the calls of owls, the whistle of the Fitchburg train, the resonant bells of a local church as he moves through the world. Thoreau’s essayistic advocacy for an awareness to the “language which all things and events speak without metaphor” is apparent in his acute sensory experience as a means for understanding the world (1854, 78). Finally, transcendentalism took shape in the context of the political turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century, which meant issues of social reform were on the minds of its writers. Margaret Fuller’s women’s rights treatise Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” (1849), and Emerson’s and Thoreau’s antislavery addresses responded to key concerns of the moment. Worth further exploration is the emergence of new Americanist criticism, which has provided further insight into tensions between center and periphery – in particular, arguing that issues of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality are bear greater import to the development of American literature than any aesthetic mainstream.

Subject: Anthropology

TutorMe
Question:

In what ways have anthropologists conceptualized time, space, and scale? Explain how their concepts have shaped understandings of human difference throughout history.

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Elise C.
Answer:

Early anthropology projected Western notions of time and space towards others, using this as a basis for constructing understandings of human difference. In this work, Western time is described as absolute and linear, existing externally from humans. Space is constructed upon Cartesian coordinates with three dimensions, and there is distinct difference between small scale and large scale, but the large-scale can also be seen as the sum of small scales (Durkheim 1893). In early anthropology, time is often conceptualized as historic time composed by events and changes, and thus, no change implies timelessness. Emile Durkheim (1893) distinguished between the two scales of individual consciousness and population level collective consciousness and solidarity. Durkheim produced a progressive approach toward civilization, which gestured towards large social generalizations, individual consciousness, and social consciousness. Durkheim’s methodology unfolded in terms of differentiation between mechanical and organic specialization, a linear approach to cultural evolution, in which time and space emerge linearly from mechanical to organic solidarity, and progressive social evolution. In structural functionalism, social structure was seen to function in society outside of time – the study of the structural organization of the society rather than society itself. The social system also exists as a whole at a scale above individual scale of space. However, the different conception of time of the “others” appears to serve functions. In the work of Evans-Pritchard (1940), time is understood to be a social discourse that acts as a mechanism on which the system operates. The repetition of unchanging activities over time (forming a sort of ecology of time) maintains the system at equilibrium. Structural time, in this vein, forms a discourse in terms of social distances which organize political structure. For example, in the work of Evans-Pritchard (1940), this notion of time implies the Nuer of Southern Sudan as static and timeless entity. In his article, Evans-Pritchard draws distinctions between non-political units (like hamlet and household) and political ones, like tribal sections, based on his ethnographic data. Evans-Pritchard’s project ultimately serves to highlight that it is important to the Western anthropologist to attempt to understand governing systems and politics of other places in the terms that “we” have deemed to be significant. In French structuralism, then, Michel Foucault (1984) focused on individual structure, in one moment in time, rather than extending universalities, and Pierre Bourdieu’s (1994) habitus took for granted the idea of learned behaviors. In Foucault’s work, the focus was on individual within the “timeless” social structure. Structuralism was based on notions of the diachronic (change over time) and synchronic (one point in time.) Social structure was understood to be synchronic, like grammar in language, while structure is universal and does not rely on the progression of time. Structuralist approaches were based on a fixed individual scale, wherein the underlying social structure is essentially timeless. Postmodern and postcolonial critique put forth arguments that decentralized the authority and science and thus deconstructed objectivity. This leads the questioning of time as social and space and social construct. In such postmodern and postcolonial critique, the emphasis was on individual level agency and reflexivity. In terms of timescale, historical materialism focused on the long-term historic background, and spatially, in world-system theory, on a broad spatial and temporal scale in order to more effectively study social phenomena such as colonialism. In interpretive and symbolic anthropology and phenomenology, the scale was centered on the individual, and individual experience. Critical work from the 1980s and 1990s introduced notions of plural temporality and spatiality, in which there are multiple constructs of space and time, and things are understood to operate differently at different scales (non-linearly.) The expansion in both temporal and spatial scale coalesces with regards to variation at individual scale. As we move up the scale continuum, variation diminishes and patterns emerge. Of course, this does not mean that small-scale events are less important, or reduce phenomena to singularly large-scale processes, but by understanding how human behavior operates differently at these scales, we can better understand human variation in both time and space. Emerging from critiques of anthropology in the 1980s and 1990s, post-modern and post-colonial critique have served to expand anthropological thinking and practice with respect to the object of culture in an age of globalization and to redirect the discipline toward a critical post-colonial horizon through work on individual reflexivity and power relations, as well as the move to contextualize societies and cultural phenomena. Anthropologists draw greater focus on understanding historical context and power relations, pluralizing viewpoints (considering from a multiplicity of perspectives and recognizing situatedness), and attempting to decentralize authority. Post-modern and post-colonial work aims to act on the notion that, with regards to time, space, and scale, social phenomena must be understood in their own terms, and, in considering understandings of human difference, the object of study necessarily becomes the subject rather than a formulated hypothesis.

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