Music in the Service of Social Movements

Music has been used as a means of representing social movement and political messages for centuries. Its cultural integration serving as a natural method of bringing people together cannot be underestimated in the function of musicking as a driver of social movement. Music is one of those mediums that is both highly culturally defined but at the same time can transcend all physical, cultural, and social borders, inspiring people and serving as a means of breaking the status quo. Rosenthal and Flacks write, “Musicking’s role is also significantly affected by the political situation a movement confronts. When and where other forms of expression are forbidden or tightly controlled, cultural forms (or whatever avenues of communication are still available) become increasingly loaded with political significance” (203). Music has a diverse role in the social movement; it can either be used to represent deep cultural ties, be used as a status of rebellion when suppressed, or simply represent the opposition to the status quo. I believe that the complex and multilayered concept of music ranging from melody to lyrics to the instruments and medium being utilized offer it to be such a multifaceted instrument of being a defining part of social movements and connecting individuals on a much deeper level.

However, I think that music is rarely, if ever, is created solely as a means of social or political protest. It can potentially express some of those views, most often subtly or through literary elements in its lyrics, but in general, music is an art form that seeks to explore the artistry of the genre, the inner feelings of the musician, and worldviews that are demonstrated more as an expression rather than the interest of advancing political positions. As the text notes in Chapter 11, across multiple generations of authors, most were focused on expressing their values, creating entertainment, and personal testimony, never intentionally or explicitly meaning for their music to become associated with a movement. It can be argued that the music or artists’ relationship to either the state, social movements, or industry is driven more by how their music is used rather than for what purpose it was intended. The text quotes Rodnitsky, “’Art and politics are often joined, but seldom compatible;’ critics claim that political engagement, by its very nature, limits artists’ freedom of expression and capacity for truth telling” (222). Therefore, artists rarely seek to associate themselves publicly with any political ideologies, they may potentially support or admire a particular concept, but they do not stand for it outside of potentially mainstream beliefs.

I think it is important to mention the definite harm that music can bring to a social movement, as discussed in the books. Throughout, it is mentioned that, for the most part, modern music is produced within the context of industry, which has the primary goal of making a profit. Therefore, it censors music, manipulates public conscience, uses preset algorithms, and other means that make it superficial. This has been ongoing for decades, and even the seemingly groundbreaking revolutionary artists such as Bob Marley or NWA that seemed to adopt (willingly or projected upon them) a social movement persona, were nevertheless part of the popular culture. This may dilute social movements significantly as it shifts attention away from their purpose to either the music or the popular performers (‘hero worship’), but at its core, once again, music is meant to serve as an expression, not a driver of social attitudes.

Work Cited

Rosenthal, Rob and Richard Flacks. Playing for Change: Music and Musicians in the Service of Social Movements. Routledge, 2016. pp. 181-256.

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Premium Papers. 2023. "Music in the Service of Social Movements." March 15, 2023.

1. Premium Papers. "Music in the Service of Social Movements." March 15, 2023.


Premium Papers. "Music in the Service of Social Movements." March 15, 2023.