A ‘Social Form Of Knowledge’ in Practice: Unofficial Compiling of 1960s Pop Music on CD-R

Paul Martin


In this article I explore the ‘unofficial’ (and technically illegal) compiling of marginally known 1960s pop records on Compact Disc Recordable (CD-R). I do so by situating it within the proposition by the late Raphael Samuel, that history is ‘social knowledge’ and a practice rather than a profession. I propose that this compiling activity exemplifies this proposition. The core of the paper is centred on a 2007 survey which I conducted via three on-line 1960s music enthusiast discussion forums. I draw on the sixteen responses to demonstrate how the motivations, values and intentions of those respondents engaging in the practice of CD-R compiling are historically and socially centred. In doing so, I seek to problematise the music industry’s undifferentiated condemnation of all copying as theft. I do so by showing how, far from stealing, these CD-R compilers are adding to the musical social knowledge of 1960s pop and rock music. I further situate them within a longer lineage of ‘unofficial listening’ dating back to at least the 1930s. In using the term ‘unofficial’ in both a legal and public historical sense (eg to take issue with a received narrative), I point to wider definitions of what historically has or has not been musically ‘official’ to listen to. I seek also to point to the practice of CD-R compiling as a historical ‘moment’ in technological change, which might otherwise go unremarked upon as the CD-R itself heads towards utilitarian obsolescence. Although, the issues and concepts raised in the paper can be little more than pointed to, it is hoped it might act as one platform for the historical engagement with a subject more commonly discussed in sociological terms. As public historians we should be reflexive and inter-disciplinary and it is with this mind set that this article is written.


unofficial, official, Public History, social knowledge, social practice, problemetise

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