6.7.07

coprolalia & shibboleths, final version

this is the link to the full, final, printable version of the thesis, with the last few remaining typos, formatting inconsistencies etc. dealt with (page numbering remains as in the previous post). it is therefore ever so slightly better than the one the library got. this is as it should be, as far more people would access this through here or archive.org than through trinity library. according to the page its hosted on, it’s been downloaded 226 times thus far, this is really pretty good for a sociology phd, which is usually read by, at most, the person who wrote it (presumably), their supervisor (hopefully), and two examiners (ditto). of course, that it was downloaded doesn’t mean anyone paid any attention to its content (this point is often made about grey tuesday). however, some of the bc room peeps have looked at it and given me some feedback, which i'll be posting about soon. the current citation form for the document is:

Whelan, Andrew. 2007. Coprolalia and Shibboleths: musical and textual interaction in the Breakcore room. Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Sociology, Trinity College, Dublin. Retrieved [date] (http://www.archive.org/details/coprolalia_and_shibboleths).

if you get a kick out of this, you might also want to check:

Whelan, Andrew. 2006. “Do U Produce?: Subcultural Capital and Amateur Musicianship in Peer-to-Peer Networks.” Pp. 57-81 in Cybersounds: Essays on Virtual Music Culture, edited by Michael Ayers. New York: Peter Lang Press.

which is a kind of proto-run to c & s, simpler, shorter, and with a slightly different theoretical focus. let me know if you have trouble sourcing this.
the thesis was supervised by dr. barbara bradby. it was examined by viva on february 19th 2007 by professor steve jones at the university of illinois at chicago (external), and dr. brian torode from trinity’s sociology dept. (internal), and passed with ‘minor corrections’. these corrections were formally accepted june 28th.

wtf?
‘shibboleths’ are words or phrases, the use of which differentiates social groups into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. so, for instance, slang, or the technical language of some types of sciences and professions, is constituted by shibboleths.
‘coprolalia’ is literally ‘shit-babble’ or ‘shit-talk’. this word used to be (mis)applied to speech patterns such as those associated with tourette’s. i use it, though, as part of a binary, with the other term in this binary being shitlessness (i draw the latter from terry eagleton). the idea basically is that these are distinct speech genres, so that ‘dirty’ jokes, pub talk, toilet wall graffiti and so on are coprolalic, and political speeches, lectures, news reports etc. are shitless. each orients to language, referentiality, and the world in different ways. basically, shitless speech genres claim they mean what they say, and coprolalic ones claim they don’t. the shitless is a formal, ‘frontstage’, official, adult type of talk, while coprolalia is an informal, ‘backstage’, ostensibly subversive, youth form. each is to some extent dependent on the other for its viability. the data i draw on is chatroom interaction, which is of course often coprolalic, but in order to get a phd, i am obliged to use a shitless mode of writing. one of the things i am interested in, consequently, is the disjuncture between these two types of discourse and the effects each has on the other.
the thesis runs like this:
1 – introduction: a summary of the argument, an account of the orientation to internet research taken, and an unpacking of the idea of the ‘bedroom producer’. this is followed by a discussion and problematisation of the rationalisation/democratisation debate, where these are the two competing frameworks through which the relationship between music and technology is generally understood in sociology.
2 – points of departure. this chapter summarises the history of p2p, and then looks at how file-sharing reciprocity is organised socially.
3 – populating the frame: this chapter looks in detail at the information distributed alongside the mp3, with a specific interest in identity presentation as instantiated in nfo files. it then introduces subcultural identity presentation in text, through looking at how this is associated with embodiment, and describing this in terms of ‘personæ’. chapters 2 and 3 thus set the stage for what follows, discussing the technology, the social norms of its use, the artefacts so distributed, and the agents engaged in exchange.
4 – ‘speech’/play and interaction ritual: this is where the good stuff starts, beginning with a description of some of the turn-taking problems associated with text-based interaction, and moving out to an account of how chatroom interaction can be characterised as speech play – specifically, adversarial ritual insult. this is where coprolalia gets introduced and defined. along the way, there’s a critique of some ideas about interpretation in sociology. the chapter ends with a discussion of ritual insults of the ‘your mother’ variety.
5 – “only if you’re a real nigga”: here the first shibboleth is introduced: the honorific/epithet nigga. this word gets tracked across a variety of contexts, from greetings, to requests, to contested ‘joke’ sequences. the interest is in how such words, and disputes about their use, contribute to the construction of social reality.
6 – “we all suck equally much”: ‘doing’ masculinity: here the previous stuff on adversariality gets developed into the ‘adversative’, and the relationship between the adversative and homosociality is brought into focus. the idea of fratriarchy is introduced as a way to account for this relationship, and the discussion is then developed to show how academic ‘knowledge’ also produces itself through adversative contest.
7 – ‘ghey’: this is about the second shibboleth, ghey, and the role it plays in the constitution of fratriarchal masculinity. it also discusses how ‘bedroom producerness’ draws on the abject in such a way as to both constitute and maintain subcultural authenticity (‘underground’) and reject patriarchal incorporation (‘mainstream’).
8 – junglist. this chapter introduces the third and final shibboleth: the amen. hence a shift happens here, from terms and forms used in interaction, to an emphasis on music and how it is discussed and produced. the chapter starts with a critique of accounts of music as ‘extradiscursive’, that is, linguistically indescribable. this is followed by a history of the amen and a description of how it works in time, and how it works as a sample and as an element in the cultural economy. this is done first through a consideration of the role the amen plays in jungle, and a discussion of some of the cultural and political problems faced by ragga jungle.
9 – “a antique style some nerds did”: this brings us across the continuum from raggacore to breakcore, with a discussion of the debate about whether or not the amen should still be used. this is situated in terms of the varying approaches to musical production and how they relate to the status of breakcore as subcultural ‘underground’. the chapter winds up with a discussion of the role of noise and distortion as guarantors of subcultural authenticity.
10 – “safeway brand breakcore” begins by contextualising the material in the last two chapters, through critically relating ‘plunderphonics’ and ‘pop mashing’ to the argument about copyright and p2p, and to the right to ‘speak’ in the cultural economy of sound. this discussion is then used to critique the rationalisation/democratisation debate. the thesis concludes by problematising the distinction between ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’ as it is applied to cmc and ‘cybersubculture’ (to use a term i don’t much like), and finally reflexively addressing the shitless mode of academic writing.
then there is
author index
interactant index
bibliography - you should see the full one!
discography, which is, inevitably, already out of date, and
cd playlist. these tunes are now here.
that's it in a nutshell, though some of the nuance and continuity is lost in this summary. pretty straightforward right?
the project is about underground music online, and so it is predicated on the idea that this shit matters. as well as being within the genre of sociology, it is also a commentary on and critique of how sociology is done and the limits to sociology. so it basically brings into dialogue the two cultural forms i have been obsessed with since the mid-90s (ok, we didn’t really have the word 'breakcore' back then, but we did have jungle). there is a lot of sociology that is about things i don't understand or care about, but i do care about this, and i care about how people use music to (re)define themselves, the social world, and the order and ranking of the things in it. some of the social and cultural theory here might be hard to 'get', but it provides a good toolkit for talking about social life and how it works, how self and the social are interconnected and so on. it’s probably pretty obvious i would think that.
so, if you're interested in masculinity, cmc, and language use, i'd go for chapters 4-7. if you’re interested in breakcore, sampling, dance music or whatever, that happens in chapters 8-10. p2p: chapters 2 and 10. internet research: 1, 2 and 10. social theory, i used adorno, attali, bakhtin, garfinkel, goffman and collins, kristeva, weber, and some others besides, i'm sure you can make your own mind up.
death to false metal!

update: see here.

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