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Christian Müller (01.12.2012 - 30.11.2015)

Doing Jazz - on the constitution of social practice


Personal Information

eMail: christian.mueller@soziologie.uni-freiburg.de 


  • 1995-1996 Apprenticeship as a carpenter
  • 1996-1999 Apprenticeship as a design draftsman
  • 1999-2000 Employment as a design draftsman
  • 2000-2003 Abitur at Abendgymnasium Darmstadt
  • 2004 Civilian service
  • 2004-2011 Studies in Sociology, Psychology, Media sciences in Freiburg, Basel, Barcelona
  • 2011 Magister Artium Sociology. Title of thesis: Die Subjektform des unternehmerischen Selbst zwischen Autonomie und Fragmentierung - Eine empirische Untersuchung zum Wandel der Subjektkulturen
  • Seit 2012 Doctoral fellow at DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288 “Freunde, Gönner, Getreue” at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau





  • Magister Artium thesis at Freidok:


Ph.D Project

Doing Jazz - on the constitution of social practice

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Bröckling
Tutor: Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe


The basic approach of this research is to examine the social and musical dynamics of jazz performances as a form of cultural practice. More particularly, the focus of attention lies on interaction and coordination and the specific relationship that emerges from what might be phrased as “doing jazz“. The act of making music together is a basic social activity that constitutes a community of practice. As for jazz musicians, the same accounts for mutually shared knowledge, ideas and ideals about the meaning of jazz, that constitute what Tönnies called Gemeinschaft des Geistes.

As opposed to other genres, a key element of jazz lies in the ability of playing improvised music while performing along with other musicians. The basic form of a classic jazz tune mostly just consists of a progression of chords, outlining the harmonic structure. There are other variations, such as Free jazz, that even lack any form of guideline whatsoever - every single aspect, be it harmony, melody oder rhythmic structure is negotiated in actu. To achieve a certain level of integration, players have to be able to function together as a unit. The challenge is to individually enter into a state of ‘Flow’ but still retain a sensibility an openness for the presence and acts of the other musicians. Schütz describes this phenomenon as a “mutually tuning-in relationship“ where an experience of ‘we’ emerges through the “sharing of the others’s flux of experiences in inner time“.

There are a variety of theoretical concepts that might help to shed some light on what’s exactly happening between jazz musicians while performing. They mostly derive from the assumption, that phenomena of emotional and affective transmission as well as entrainment might be key. As far as Durkheim ist concerned, these are basic categories for any form of community building. This accounts even more for the act of making music, as a form of play that is supposed to bring joy, pleasure and a state of immersion.

Another essential point for a comprehensive perspective on the given phenomenon lies in the importance of the fact, that musicians make use of instruments. It’s neither the musician as a subject, nor the object of the instrument that produces sound, but a hybrid conjunction of the two. From a methodological standpoint it’s crucial to integrate the usage of such artefacts into the conception of an actor. By doing so, one accounts for the various processes of embodiment involved in the practice of making music and hence for the fact that the object of the instrument is actually integrated into the the subject of the musician and vice versa. As a consequence, the whole perspective on social dynamics changes, giving it a more materialistic spin. The connection being made here happens through and between objects. It is thus at the same time social and material in it’s nature and questiones the sharp distinction between these two spheres.

Since the act of playing jazz involves creating an atmosphere of mutual responsiveness, trust, courtesy and intimacy, the question arises, if this type of integration is limited to the realm of music or does it initiate a form of social bond, that has an effect on other forms of social interaction? Or vice versa: What effect has social conflict on musical interaction? The methodological design of this study consists of a combination of various ethnographic approaches: participant observation, qualitative interviews with focus groups and individuals as well as audio- and video recording. Especially the contrasting of audio- and videorecording with focus groups, both consisting of the same group of musicians, opens a perspective on two different modes of interaction, respectively integration. On the one hand, the emergence of affective meaning by communicating in the language of music. On the other hand, the emergence of discursive meaning by communicating in the language of speech.

The triangulation of these different approaches should help to gain some praxeological insight on the social dynamics of jazz bands. As an object of research it can be seen as a kind of sociological laboratory. It can serve as a paradigmatic example for a range of social phenomena: transmission of affect, dynamics of embodiment, the role of objects in social interaction and eventually the emergence of a specific form of social integration. 

  • Postadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    c/o Historisches Seminar
    Rempartstr. 15 - KG IV
    79085 Freiburg 
  • Besuchsadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    Erbprinzenstraße 13
    79098 Freiburg
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