Article ID: CBB001552597

On Equal Temperament: Tuning, Modernity and Compromise (2015)


In this article, I use Stengers' (2010) concepts of `factish', `requirements' and `obligations', as well as Latour's (1993) critique of modernity, to interrogate the rise of Equal Temperament as the dominant system of tuning for western music. I argue that Equal Temperament is founded on an unacknowledged compromise which undermines its claims to rationality and universality. This compromise rests on the standardization which is the hallmark of the tuning system of Equal Temperament, and, in this way, it is emblematic of Latour's definition of modernity. I further argue that the problem of the tuning of musical instruments is one which epitomizes the modern distinction between the natural and the social. In turn, this bears witness to what Whitehead calls the `bifurcation of nature'. Throughout this article, using the work of Stengers and Latour, I seek to use tuning as a case study which allows social research to talk both of the natural and of the social aspects of music and tuning, without recourse to essentialism or simple social construction. In this way, my argument seeks to avoid bifurcating nature.

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Authors & Contributors
Latour, Bruno
Seguin, Eve
Khong, Lynnette
Guan, Xiao-wu
García Díaz, Paloma
Venturini, Tommaso
Social Studies of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Nei Menggu Shifan Daxue Xuebao (Ziran Kexue Ban)
Theoria (0495-4548)
Public Understanding of Science
Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric
PL Academic Research
State University of New York at Binghamton
Philosophy of science
Philosophers of science, modern
Science studies, theoretical works
Musical scales; temperament
Actor-network theory
Sociology of knowledge
Latour, Bruno
Kuhn, Thomas S.
Heidegger, Martin
Bloor, David
Polanyi, Michael
Stumpf, Carl
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
Han dynasty (China, 202 B.C.-220 A.D.)
13th century
17th century

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