On Music as Space


Because of its significance to social action and relations, space is theoretical tool in understanding power. Much power is spatialized, as the use and control of space are continuously negotiated.
Those in power specifically, the state attempt to maintain their position through division and control of space, what Foucault calls spatial ‘techniques’ of domination: maps, censuses, quarantines, surveillance; all facilitate control through the segmentation of space and separation of groups or individuals by those in positions to produce knowledge.

Part of the power in space lies in the possibility of creating and maintaining difference and hierarchy through it. The most practical Marxist example is the skewed distribution of resources through space and the associated uneven development, but difference is also created symbolically through the naming and ‘knowing’ of spaces: the differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighbourhoods, ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations. Factories, prisons, public housing projects, gated communities, shopping malls and coffee shops are all examples of urban spaces through which social difference is constructed and sometimes challenged. ‘Othering’, then, is also done by delineating belonging and otherness in spatial terms: place of birth, area of residence, workplace, spaces of leisure and consumption. In the process, meaning is created not just in but through space.


Music is a spatial phenomenon, as it is tied to specific places, is implicated in how sites or spaces are perceived, and is intimately connected to the travel of people, goods and ideas through space.
Music and musical cultures are integral in shaping discursive, textual spaces or spatial narratives that are not necessarily pinned to one physical location but rather can be applied to various ‘real’ material sites, giving meaning to a range of spatial experiences and practices.
Part of this discursive spacemaking involves narrating new contexts for struggle or contestation.

Gibson, for instance, discusses Aboriginal popular music in Australia and how the musicians are involved in the construction of differently scaled ‘arenas of empowerment’ that offer space for indigenous self-determination. The production and consumption of music take place in specific spaces that gain meaning through these locations, just as they imbue the music itself with meaning. Stanley Niaah shows how the dancehall in Jamaica, with its inner-city core, is a liminal space, both marginal and central, in which celebration, conflict and memory are musically inscribed.
The spatial importance of music is also evident in crossing global distances and divides, more easily even than visual or purely textual media, connecting like-minded groups across the globe by forming what Carolyn Cooper, after the poet Kamau Brathwaite, calls

‘bridges of sound’.

Found in chapter Music, space and power from:

Surinamese Maroons as reggae artistes: music, marginality and urban space
By Rivke Jaffe and Jolien Sanderse, 2009.

Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 33 No. 9 October 2010

Image source:
dancecourseja.com

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