Music offers significant insight on individuals' beliefs, personalities, interests and cultural backgrounds.
It should come as little surprise then that popular music is finding its way into University of Houston sociology classrooms. In fact, UH sociology department chair Joe Kotarba recently co-authored a new text on the subject.
Written with Phillip Vannini, associate professor at Royal Roads University, the book "Understanding Society Through Popular Music" (Routledge) is aimed at illustrating essential sociological principles through music.
"It will be very helpful in engaging students and opening their minds to the subject," said Kotarba. "Students typically like some form of popular music or a particular performer. Exploring sociology through the culture of music will help them understand how it is relevant to their lives."
The book is used by students in Kotarba's "Introduction to Sociology" and "The Sociology of Popular Music" classes. It explores contemporary music and a host of genres such as heavy metal, punk, rap, country and pop. Chapter topics include popular music's relationship to the family, the economy, deviance, children, race, class, gender and the self.
"Popular music contains most, if not all, of the fundamental principles of sociology," Kotarba said. "One can find social stratification in popular music, for example, by observing the different styles of music listened to by the working- and upper-middle classes. Popular music also has implications for gender issues. Take, for example, the fact that the rock genre is dominated by male acts, while female artists rule pop. Popular music opens new doors for exploring the nuances of social processes."
Kotarba has authored numerous articles on popular music, as well as the book "Growing Old with Rock n' Roll." In 2007, Kotarba coordinated the UH Faculty Senate's "Music Across Boundaries" academic conference. His recent research efforts include "Mapping the Varieties of Latino Music in Houston," in which he and a team of graduate students observed Houston's Latino communities to learn how music relates to and supports their everyday life experiences.