We Were Never Cool: Investigating knowledge production and discourses of cool in the sociology of music

Jo Haynes*, Raphaël Nowak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
184 Downloads (Pure)


This article examines knowledge production in the sociology of music. Focusing on the idea of cool music, we interrogate the nature of music researchers’ relationship with their object of research. While the qualification and connotation of cool is widespread in popular music, sociology has largely neglected to engage with it as an object of research. Instead, the sociological investigation of music audiences is divided between two opposed but co-constructed paradigms that ultimately do not account for how cool emerges as a qualifier and connotation, how it performs as a discourse on music, and to what effect. Using the example of ageing music researchers as a departure point, we examine how the cool connotations of music function as a mode of discourse that legitimates particular knowledge, practice and taste, demarcating insider/outsider status. We explore how music acquires social connotations such as ‘cool’ and whether that alters music researchers’ approaches to it. We argue that apart from the disclosure of inclinations, social characteristics and relationships to the object of research (music scenes, preferences, fandom, and so on), the tradition of reflexive empirical perspectives in music sociology should incorporate further deconstruction of the transformative dimensions in the relations between music and researcher. Music, as a complex and dynamic object, thus requires sociology to produce accounts that both encompass people’s enjoyment and experience as well as its boundary-defining capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)448-462
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date28 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2021


  • ageing
  • cool
  • insider
  • cultural sociology
  • knowledge production
  • music research
  • music sociology
  • youth


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