The Theoretical Intersection of Science and Music – An Abstract

In this post, Dr. Joseph Kotarba shares the abstract from a recent keynote talk he gave in Bulgaria at the Seventh Annual Conference of the ESSSI and will elaborate on as well at the upcoming SSSI annual meetings.  

The Theoretical Intersection of Science and Music

Keynote Address

The Seventh Annual Conference of the ESSSI

Topola, Bulgaria

(July 2016)


Joseph A. Kotarba, Ph.D.

Department of Sociology

Texas State University

San Marcos, Texas U.S.A.


Institute for Translational Sciences

University of Texas Medical Branch

Galveston, Texas U.S.A.


The purpose of this presentation is to discuss the value of applying the interactionist concept of the self to understanding the contemporary biomedical scientist. Translational science (TS) is a growing scientific movement that aims to facilitate the efficient application of bio-medical research to clinical services design and delivery (i.e., improving the “bench-to-bedside” process). Since 2010, I have served as a member of an interdisciplinary team charged to evaluate the progress of the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award received by the Institute for Translational Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston. The program’s administrators initially framed their interest in understanding empirical and thus measurable organizational change in terms of deliverables such as patents, external grants and publications, as well as formal rule application. I focused my research on a bit more elusive phenomenon: cultural change. Following Gary Fine, I argued that cultural activity and change occurs at the local, medical center level and do not result directly from NIH policies and dictates. I agree with Robert Dingwall and Phil Strong that organizations are the products of their members’ actions in circumstances that are not entirely of their own making, although allowing scope for manipulation and maneuver. Patrick McGinty offered a corrective that argued that interactionism allows for both social organizational analysis as well as organizational ethnography. Accordingly, my primary research design evolved to seeing the self-experience of the scientist as the media by which culture at all organizational levels impacts the work of science, while also providing a scholarly resource for understanding the impact of contemporary science on the everyday life of the individual scientist. In this presentation, I choose music as an important cultural resource that links the scientific/rational aspects of self to the aesthetic/humanistic aspects of self. Thus, cultural experiences like music reinforce the esteemed self-definition of “intellectual”; functions as an escape from overrationalized expectations of others (NIH); facilitates interface with if not return to the community through activities such as symphony board membership; provides an alternative outlet for creativity and innovation such as the “wedding mix;” and provides another outlet for orderliness such as archiving music and delving into music history. The ideal “deliverable” is the balanced self.


This study was conducted with the support of the Institute for Translational Sciences at the

University of Texas Medical Branch, supported in part by a Clinical and Translational Science Award (UT1TR000071) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health.


About Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction - Blog

The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) is an international professional organization of scholars interested in the study of a wide range of social issues with an emphasis on identity, everyday practice, and language.
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