Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Richard Peterson – "Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music" – summary and review

What is interesting about Richard Peterson's "Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music" is his analysis of the production of culture and its characteristics as the background mechanism which facilitates change in popular culture.
In "Why 1955?" Peterson relies on his former model of "institutional constraints" for analyzing the production of culture in the light of institutional structures and modes of production. The institutional constraints model of the production of culture aims to demonstrate how changes in style and nature of cultural products and the emergence of innovative and groundbreaking trends can be explained through institutional constraints which influence, directly or indirectly, the production of culture.

The institutional constraints of the production of culture introduced by Peterson are: technology and technological innovations, law and regulation, career patterns, market structure, industry structure and organizational structure. The main point of the institutional constraints model is that the production of culture functions along the various workings of these "constraints" which shape to at least some extent which cultural products gain wide circulation. In "Why 1955?" Peterson uses the production of culture model to offer an explanation of why it 1955 which saw the rise of rock music in popular culture.

In explaining the advent of rock music Peterson does not resort to an attempted explanation of the meaning of the new musical style (like, for instance Dick Hebdige in "The Meaning of Style") but rather he assumes that rock music was "there" in the sense that audiences were at a certain point in cultural history in which such music could fit their needs. What Peterson is asking, as suggested by his title "Why 1955?", is what were to conditions, "institutional constraints" which allowed for the rise of tock music. Peterson shows how changes in the 50's in technology which allowed easier and wider circulation of even small firms and marginal (for the time being) artists, in legislation and regulation and the structural state of both the industry and organizations can explain the rise of rock music. 

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