1st Edition

Music in the Course of Life

By Joseph A. Kotarba Copyright 2023
    160 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    160 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book illustrates how social meanings provided by music are experienced throughout the course of life. To this end, the author examines in depth the concepts of self, identity, socialization, and the life course itself.

    Social scientists have traditionally focused on music experiences among different generations, one at a time, with an emphasis on young audiences. This book explores appreciation for and use of music as a dynamic process that does not begin when we enter adolescence, nor end when we become adults. It demonstrates the relationship between the experience of music and the experience of self as a fundamental feature of the more general relationship of the individual to society. Music completes the circle of life. The author bases his analysis on observations made through a variety of qualitative studies and methodologies, as well as his own music autobiography.

    Clear and jargon free, this book is a timely application of key concepts from the everyday life sociologies for scholars and students in the sociology of music and culture and other related disciplines such as anthropology and ethnomusicology. It will be of interest for upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses in culture, music, symbolic interaction, social psychology, and qualitative research methods.


    1. Early Childhood: The Music-Self as Being

    2. Later Childhood/Early Adolescence: Experimenting with the Music-Self

    3. Later Adolescence and the Becoming of the Music-Self

    4. Becoming of the Music-Self in Early Adulthood

    5. Adulthood: "Still Becoming"

    6. International Experiences of the Adult Music-Self

    7. The Early Elders’ Music-Self as "Been There"

    8. Community as the Vortex for Music and the Self

    9. Compassion for Later Elders and Music at the End of Life: The Music-Self Comes Full Circle



    Joseph A. Kotarba is Professor of Sociology at Texas State University, U.S.A. where he directs the Music Across the Life Course Project. He also serves as Medical Sociologist and Ethnographer for the Institute for Translational Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch. He received the George Herbert Mead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction; and the Society’s Charles Horton Cooley Award for Best Book in the Symbolic Interactionist Tradition for Baby Boomer Rock 'n' Roll Fans (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013); and the Society's Helena Lopata Award for Excellence in Mentoring. He is currently studying the relationship between science, medicine, and music; the experience of music during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the culture of the translational science movement. He received his doctorate from the University of California, San Diego.

    "Drawing from four decades of research examining the social worlds of rock and popular music, Joseph Kotarba has truly created his magnum opus. Written in a clear and accessible style, he speaks directly to readers and captures their attention like an impressive guitar riff. He masterfully weaves ethnographic details from the field, documenting everyday life interaction with music as it punctuates enduring markers of meaning throughout the life course. A classic in the making, Music in the Course of Life provides vital insight into key sociological concepts that explain our evolving dance with music from early childhood through our aging years." 

    Dr. Robert Owen Gardner, Professor of Sociology, Linfield University, Author of The Portable Community: Place and Displacement in Bluegrass Festival Life (2020)

    "Sociological studies of music have often emphasized youth subcultures or intense dedicated fans of particular musical genres. But music, Kotarba shows us, is a powerful lifelong experience shared by everyone. This book provides a novel symbolic interactionist approach that treats music not as a subcultural phenomenon but as an integral part in the course of life all the way from early childhood through later elders. With sensitivity to the full range of the course of life, Kotarba vividly demonstrates the importance of music to the construction and maintenance of the self, through self-being, self-becoming, and self-remembering. With wide-ranging examples across multiple genres and a lively, accessible, writing style, Kotarba invites us to enjoy the sociology of music as much as we enjoy music itself."

    Dr. Wayne H. Brekhus, Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri

    "Music in the Course of Life is a fitting crescendo to Dr. Kotarba’s lengthy and powerful career as a symbolic interactionist who sees music as a key feature of the everyday life experience of culture. His updating of life course theory is a creative integration of contemporary interactionist thinking on the self concept. This book is a collection of stories, Dr. Kotarba’s and those of his respondents, that nicely capture the magic of music in all our lives."  

    Dr. Norman Denzin, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois

    "This book really sings! Dr. Kotarba demonstrates the magic and meaning of music inherent throughout the entire course of life. Using insights from everyday life sociology, he integrates a wide range of literature on music experience with evocative personal stories gathered from respondents of all ages and from his own engaging stories as a social researcher and a music fan. I was particularly taken with his insight and thoroughness in depicting music as a portal of compassion for the elderly with dementia and those near-death. This book will be of tremendous value to all those—researchers and laypeople alike--interested in the reflexive relationship between music and the self." 

    Dr. Carolyn Ellis, Distinguished University Professor Emerita, University of South Florida