This study aims its critical eye towards a conceptual narrative that current music scholars have inherited from their “New Musicological” forebears to describe the growth and development of knowledge in music scholarship. The narrative traces its origins to Thomas Kuhn’s treatise The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which argues that knowledge will only advance when a research paradigm that dominates a particular field of study is proven to be ineffective in the face of new research problems and is therefore discarded in a conceptual “coup d’état.” Kuhn’s narrative, and the critical descriptions of music scholarship that have ensued, is premised on an either/or perception of the practice of research according to which scholars will be required to choose between an established research paradigm and a replacement methodology. This study will dispel this perception with a statistical analysis of research interests in the field of music theory, represented in a sampling of 171 articles, which show that the methodologies in that field are more fluid and adaptable than the Kuhnian narrative would admit. This data demonstrates that existing research paradigms have been largely successful in adapting to the new conceptual environments within which they find themselves and suggests that a better metaphor for conceptual change might lie in the process of evolution. The study cites the work of the philosopher Stephen Toulmin to provide the plot of a new conceptual narrative.

The author, Karen Fournier, is a professor of music theory at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She holds a PhD in music theory and an MA in musicology from The University of Western Ontario (Canada), a BA in music from the University of Ottawa (Canada), and a BA in history from Carleton University (Canada). Karen is an active scholar, having presented papers at over three dozen music and cultural studies conferences in Spain, England, Canada, and the United States. She has published articles in GAMUT, The Journal of Musicological Research, Culture and Power, The College Music Symposium, and Music Theory Spectrum, and is currently working on a book-length project on British punk rock.

Read Karen Fournier’s article here