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The English occupational song
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts.
1992 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This is the first full-length study in English of occupational songs. They occupy the space between rhythmic work songs and labour songs in that the occupation signifies. Occupation is a key territorial site. If the métier of the protagonist is mentioned in a ballad, it cannot be regarded as merely a piece of illustrative detail. On the contrary, it initiates a powerful series of connotations that control the narrative, while the song's specific features are drawn directly from the milieu of the performer. At the same time, occupational songs have to exist in a dialectical relationship with their milieu. On the one hand, they aspire to express the developing concerns of working people in a way that is simultaneously representational and metaphoric, and in this respect they display relative autonomy. On the other, they are subject to the mediation of the dominant or hegemonic culture for their dissemination.

The discussion is song-based, concentrating on the occupation group rather than, as in several studies of recent years, the repertoire of a singer or the dynamics of a particular performance. It is broadly based, including songs from over a hundred occupations. Despite widely disparate conditions of society and performance, the representation of work in vernacular song operates not in a naturalistic but a performative way, in the sense that the work process is transformed into a carrier of social and psychological meaning. Occupational songs clearly come into the category of "music of necessity" made to fulfil some specific social function which is achieved in the act of making. In representing work, they tend towards four positions, the figurative, the rebellious, the parodie and the reductive. Popular culture, in the sense of a vernacular form to which no single individual can lay claim, is subordinated to "high" and mass culture, and therefore in many cases these positions are attempts to take advantage of the oral mode to transgress stereotypes set up by both of these dominant discourses. In the case of songs performed by insiders, the representation may appear as metaphor and parody, subverting received ideas, while those by outsiders, for example in the music hall and on many of the broadsides, tend to reduce particular occupations to a number of simple significations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå :: Umeå universitet , 1992. , 184 p.
Umeå studies in the humanities, ISSN 0345-0155 ; 105
Keyword [en]
work, metaphor, occupational song, industrial song, women's songs, weaving, mining, the miller, railways
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-66615ISBN: 91-7174-649-8OAI: diva2:608919
Public defence
1992-05-23, Humanisthuset, Hörsal E, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:00
Available from: 2013-03-01 Created: 2013-02-26 Last updated: 2013-03-01Bibliographically approved

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