Musicking to Music Worlds: On Christopher Small's Important Innovation

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In this article, I discuss Christopher Small’s concept of “musicking.” Music is not an object or
“thing,” according to Small, but rather an activity. I outline his argument, consider some of its applications
and developments, and suggest further developments of my own. Conceptualizing music as an activity in
which people participate affords a new and interesting perspective on its effects; this has been explored in
a number of fields of study, including music therapy and research on its uses in both religion and social
movements. In addition, as these examples suggest, it renders visible the connections between music and other
domains of activity (e.g., economics and politics), enabling analysis of this intersection and thereby attracting
the interest of writers from a variety of social sciences. My own developments focus chiefly on the phenomena
of embodiment and networks. Small discusses embodiment but suggests no means of empirically capturing
its involvement and importance. I suggest that Marcel Mauss’s concept of “body techniques” fills this gap.
Likewise, Small emphasizes the importance of “relations” within musicking. I suggest that this idea might
be developed through a consideration of social networks and the techniques of social network analysis, and I
combine this with a discussion of my own conception of “music worlds.” This concept, building upon the work
of Howard Becker, provides a way of capturing the differentiation of musicking along such lines as style and
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalMusic Research Annual
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • body techniques
  • embodiment
  • listening
  • musicking
  • music worlds
  • relations
  • social networks
  • social network analysis


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