Actors and Accidents in South African Electronic Music: An Essay on Multiple Ontologies

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Accidents are a rich site of exploration for the actor–network theorist. Through accidents, hidden actors are brought into view, silent intermediaries become full-blown mediators, and black boxes are pried open. Based on fieldwork with electronic musicians in Soweto, South Africa, this paper asks how one might conceptualize actor–networks in a context where accidents and failures are ubiquitous, even expected aspects of musical activity. Because of the fragility of musical settings, my interlocutors de-emphasize the way that actors are constituted through relations (because these relations are constantly shifting and breaking apart) and instead emphasize the relative autonomy of individual components. Hence, if we are to develop a theory of musical mediation that lives up to the challenges posed by South African electronic music, it is necessary to supplement actor–network theory with a framework capable of accounting for both relationality and the non-relational perdurance of autonomous objects. This requires a careful meditation on ontology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)554-574
Number of pages21
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music


  • Accident
  • Actor–Network Theory
  • Failure
  • Ontology
  • Soweto


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