An Ethics of Improvisation
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An Ethics of Improvisation : Aesthetic Possibilities for a Political Future

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An Ethics of Improvisation takes up the puzzles and lessons of improvised music in order to theorize the building blocks of a politically just society. The investigation of what politics can learn from the people who perform and listen to musical improvisation begins with an examination of current social discourses about "the political" and an account of what social justice could look like. From there, the book considers what a politically just society's obligations are to people who do not want to be part of the political community, establishing respect for difference as a fundamental principle of social interaction. What this respect for difference entails when applied to questions of the aesthetic value of music is aesthetic pluralism, the book argues. Improvised jazz, in particular, embodies different values than those of the Western classical tradition, and must be judged on its own terms if it is to be respected. Having established the need for aesthetic pluralism in order to respect the diversity of musical traditions, the argument turns back to political theory, and considers what distinct resources improvisation theory-the theorizing of the social context in which musical improvisation takes place-has to offer established political philosophy discourses of deliberative democracy and the politics of recognition-already themselves grounded in a respect for difference. This strand of the argument takes up the challenge, familiar to peace studies, of creative ways to rebuild fractured civil societies. Throughout all of these intertwined discussions, various behaviors, practices, and value-commitments are identified as constituent parts of the "ethics of improvisation" that is articulated in the final chapter as the strategy through which individuals can collaboratively build responsive democratic communities.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 252 pages
  • 152.4 x 226.06 x 22.86mm | 544.31g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739164228
  • 9780739164228

About Tracey Nicholls

Tracey Nicholls is an assistant professor of philosophy and co-director of the Women's Studies Program at Lewis University, in the Chicago area. Born in New Zealand and raised in Canada, she brings her lived experience as an inhabitant of the British Commonwealth to bear on North American considerations of colonialism, multiculturalism, and creative ways to address social marginalization. She received her BA (2000) from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and her PhD (2006) from McGill University in Montreal. After defending the doctoral dissertation from which this book has developed, she took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Centre de Recherche en Ethique de l'Universite de Montreal (CREUM), where she wrote articles on the politics of representation in the jazz world (published in Critical Studies in Improvisation), the role improvisatory norms can play in building civil society (published in The C.L.R. James Journal), and the challenges faced by female musicians in improvised music communities (published in Cahiers de la Societe quebecoise de recherche en musique). In addition to her work on the political implications of aesthetic activities, and the ethics of improvisation that can be drawn out of these communities, she also publishes in decolonization theory, peace studies, Caribbean philosophy, and feminist theory. Her first book with Lexington was a co-edited volume, Fanon and the Decolonization of Philosophy (2010), and she is also presently working on two other co-edited volumes: one analyzing the nature and variety of social privileges; the other examining possibilities for cosmopolitan peacebuilding. Her teaching and student-related research focuses on the structural violence produced through social inequities and abusive relationships. She is a research associate with the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice Project (a multi-university Government of Canada-funded research initiative), and a member of the American Philosophical Association, the Canadian Philosophical Association, the Caribbean Philosophical Association, the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, and the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture. She is also currently working with a group of colleagues at Lewis University to build a peace and social justice presence on campus, in the hope that this will one day include a peace studies program and research center.show more

Review quote

In my judgment, An Ethics of Improvisation is a masterful work ... It succeeds in establishing important new bridges between music and politics. A really impressive volume. -- Paget Henry, Brown Universityshow more

Table of contents

Introduction: Our Political Present Chapter One: Possibilities for a Political Future Chapter Two: Respecting Resistance Chapter Three: Aesthetic Perspectives Chapter Four: Aesthetic Pitfalls Chapter Five: Political Perspectives Chapter Six: Political Pitfalls Chapter Seven: Improvising Communitiesshow more