Ask forgiveness, not permission: Busking, community and contempt | Intellect Skip to content
1981
Buskers: Community, Culture, Commodity
  • ISSN: 1752-6299
  • E-ISSN: 1752-6302

Abstract

Who would choose to be a busker and why? How are buskers positioned by, and in relation to, state, commercial and social formations that configure public spaces and public selves? I approach busking through the concept of micropolitics, developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, which argues that life and politics are immanent: inseparable from and coextensive with one another. I take Zygmunt Bauman’s pessimistic vision of ‘liquid modernity’ – a chimeric analysis that maps the coercive and alienating conditions of postmodernism and neo-liberalism – as a fitting backdrop for highlighting the significance of street music. To facilitate this discussion, I draw on memories of my background as a busker, documentary sources and autoethnographic fieldwork conducted in ten locations across regional New South Wales (Australia) between June and August 2022. I adopt a storytelling approach, foregrounding the experience of busking for the busker, and combine this with documentary analysis of regulatory frameworks and quantitative analysis of my busking sessions and earnings in different locations. In contrast to recent studies that applaud the efficacy of regulations, and that represent buskers as rational agents pursuing commercial and artistic interests, I argue that busking, as a way of life, makes little sense except as micropolitical resistance to the alienating conditions of liquid modernity. Moreover, expressions of state, economic and social power frequently manifest contempt for buskers and busking, sometimes to the point of precluding buskers from effectively conducting their livelihoods within the scope of the law. I draw on Macalester Bell’s theorization of contempt as an indispensable ethical position that manifests disregard for its object, to consider the ways in which busking appeals to the humanity of state, commercial and social agents. ‘Ask forgiveness, not permission’ is an idiom of conventional wisdom for buskers, signalling, on the one hand, an internalization of the contempt they are accustomed to receiving from those in a position to facilitate ‘permission’ and, on the other, the ideal that, if things go well, they might inspire human agents to condemn the regulatory pedantry that would proscribe their livelihoods.

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2023-09-11
2024-02-29
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