At the annual conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Nov. 11-14, 2010, in Los Angeles, I read a paper similar to the one I presented at the folklore conference (see my blog entry for October 26, 2010), but I framed it differently, aiming it at an audience of ethnomusicologists. I wrote about the way my pursuit of music and sustainability is an effort to theorize one aspect of applied ethnomusicology. And because the panel was entitled “Revisioning Science,” I summarized a few things about the historical development of the idea of "Nature's economy," and its relation to natural philosophy (the analytical and experimental side of what we now call science) and to the beginnings of ethnomusicology in the science of comparative musicology. The historical development of economics and, to a lesser degree, ecology also occupied some of my attention.
Rather than reproduce the entire paper here, I will simply reproduce the additional paragraphs, which can be read along with the paper for the folklore conference:
"For the past five years I've been speaking and writing on the topic of music and sustainability. In so doing I am theorizing one aspect of applied ethnomusicology, that aspect which concerns applied ethnomusicologists’ desires to give back something to our friends and acquaintances in the musical communities we study, those who have given so much to us, in order to help them sustain their musical practices and move confidently into musical futures of their own choosing.
"Today the “sustainability” concept is omnipresent. If one aspect of sustainability is preservation, then it could be argued that ethnomusicologists got interested in sustainability more than 100 years ago, in their efforts to preserve and display musical documents in archives and museums. But today’s sustainability efforts are attempts to sustain music cultures in situ, rather than only in archives, museums, and on the internet. UNESCO’s international treaty for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is perhaps the best known contemporary effort at sustaining music cultures, but only the latest in a series of efforts that gathered momentum in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
"Musical sustainability is vastly under-theorized. The most powerful contemporary sustainability discourses occur in the sciences; that is, in the science of ecology and in the science of economics. And so I have been visiting in these sciences to learn how conservation ecologists and developmental economists are thinking about sustainability, with a view both towards critiquing their discourses and gaining insights that might be helpful in theorizing musical-cultural sustainability. Interdisciplinarity, of course, is an old habit in ethnomusicology, for we are both by name and by nature interdisciplinary. We need not apologize for it; it is who we are and what we do….
"This concept (Nature’s economy) may be traced to the ancient Greeks. It became commonplace in eighteenth-century Europe to speak of “the oeconomie of Nature.” The natural and economic realms were governed in the same way, with wealth and commerce explained by natural law. But beginning in the late eighteenth century, in the field of natural philosophy, Nature and the economy parted ways, with the de-naturalization of economics and its emergence as an area subject not to natural law but to human institutions and agency. In the study of Nature, however, the idea of Nature’s economy persisted well into the nineteenth century, although the Deism which justified Linnaeus’s vision of the “oeconomie of Nature” had all but disappeared for Darwin, though “Nature’s economy” remained an important concept for him and he did write about it. After about 1860, however, with the rise of biology and various specialized biological pursuits, “Nature’s economy” lost its force in natural philosophy. Instead, the idea became a mainstay of the conservation movements, which were arising at that time in Europe and a bit later in the United States…..
"Natural history and the idea of “Nature’s economy” will appear quaint to many contemporary scientists. But in order for ethnomusicologists to think interdisciplinarily with science (rather than just do science) it’s important to pay attention to the history of scientific ideas and the history of science as social practice. Michel Foucault famously claimed that the study of Nature had undergone a profound shift around 1800, when the observational, formal, descriptive, classificatory and historical orientation of natural history gave way to an increasing analysis of the inner structures of things and their functions, gradually leading to biological science in the nineteenth century along with the development of various specialties such as experimental morphology, a subject I studied while in college. This is a narrative in which natural philosophy triumphs over natural history to become modern science.
"However, at the risk of disagreeing with Foucault, I believe that the descriptive, classificatory, and historical orientation of natural history was just as useful to those nineteenth century sciences that were most influential on comparative musicology, namely linguistics and Darwinian evolution, as was the analytical orientation of natural philosophy, which could be found in the young scientific specialties embryology and comparative anatomy. I regard natural philosophy and natural history as complementary orientations that have been simultaneously available in the Western world from the Renaissance onward. In the early eighteenth century the Royal Society was run by both the natural philosopher Isaac Newton (its president) and the natural historian Peter Collinson; and as far as I know, they got along. And natural history courses such as botany were normal offerings in American colleges and universities as late as the middle of the twentieth century, after which time they both changed character (to a concentration on the natural history object as an organism) and quickly declined in popularity.
"Not surprisingly, the comparative musicologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries drew on the orientations of both natural history and natural philosophy. In their fascination with scales and intervals, their transcriptions, analyses, and comparative work Stumpf and Hornbostel and the others were operating as natural philosophers, while in their descriptive, classificatory and historical work (for example, in the Sachs-Hornbostel classification of musical instruments) they were operating as natural historians. Natural history and natural philosophy are always available, just as scientific and humanistic standpoints are always available; and ethnomusicologists will embrace their interdisciplinary perspectives and methods insofar as they answer the questions that ethnomusicologists wish to ask…"
After presenting the paper there was an interesting discussion and some critique. One ethnomusicologist took issue with my portrait of economics, saying that I had unfairly “demonized” it. She pointed to environmental economics as a field where the practitioners were taking the natural world into account. I responded that it was the field of developmental economics that I was critiquing most severely. Environmental economics would include Herman E. Daly’s ecological economics, which I acknowledge as an important corrective to neoclassical economics. But I can't give full assent to “sustainable development,” and if environmental economists embrace that concept, then I part ways with them because I don't think they understand all its consequences.
I was asked, also, about transferring management techniques from conservation ecology to cultural sustainability, and given the example of what to do in the face of a forest fire. I replied that forest fires are managed, if possible, considering sometimes contradictory principles; on one hand, when they threaten human settlements, they are fought; on the other, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that small, controlled fires will burn up the understory and prevent larger, catastrophic ones. Biomimicry would advise the controlled burn, but when human lives and property are threatened, compassion trumps strict biomimicry and decrees that the fire be fought. There had been interesting critique at the folklore conference, also; and I am emailing with a colleague about the issues he raised. I look forward to discussing them in a future entry.
At the folklore conference, about 50 people had come to hear my paper, so for the ethnomusicology conference I imagined the interest would be at the same level. I made 50 handouts for distribution. To my great surprise, about 300 people came to listen to my paper. I was embarrassed and apologetic over having too few handouts. In cases like this, a blog where people can go to read the paper is a great blessing, and so I pointed them here.