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MacIntyre, Bourdieu and the practice of jazz

Mark Banksa1

a1 Department of Sociology, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK E-mail: m.o.banks@open.ac.uk

Abstract

This article offers a sociological account of the labour of jazz musicians. The first part is concerned with elaborating a theory of jazz work based on Alasdair MacIntyre's notion of social practices. Applying this theory to recent empirical work with British jazz musicians, the article reveals how the virtuous pursuit of specific ‘internal goods’ is judged to be particularly prominent in jazz, suggesting that it might constitute an ethical practice in MacIntyrean terms. While MacIntyre's theory is argued to offer a congenial framework for an analysis of jazz, it is then compared and contrasted with more established readings of jazz practice – based on the work of Pierre Bourdieu – which suggest more objective and instrumental motivations for working in jazz. The article concludes by evaluating the relative merits of each approach.

Mark Banks is Reader in Sociology at the Open University and a member of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). He is the author of numerous articles on work and identity in the cultural and creative industries and The Politics of Cultural Work (Palgrave, 2007).