PERSONAL: Female. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the cello.
CAREER: Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, lecturer in sociology, anthropology, and music; fellow, Emmanuel College.
Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1995.
(Editor, with David Hesmondhalgh) Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2000.
Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke, and the Reinvention of the BBC, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Georgina Born is a social anthropologist who focuses her expertise on the world of music in her first two books, Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde and Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music, the latter which she edited with David Hesmondhalgh. Rationalizing Culture is based on the period Born spent as a cellist at the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM). Based in Paris, France, IRCAM opened in 1977 and serves as a laboratory for avant-garde musical experiments, under the direction of Pierre Boulez. Boulez, a proponent of modernism, had previously served as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and had become very influential in the cultural establishment in France. Born's account of her time at IRCAM is "grimly hilarious," according to Mark Sinker in New Statesman & Society. She depicts IRCAM as a sort of cultural bunker against postmodernism, "a warren of obsolete, discarded, unrepairable machinery, interdisciplinary rivalries and hatred. It suffered from divisions-of-labour (and gender) hierarchy, ignorance, snobbery and fetishism … and was run chaotically by otherwise interesting and charming people," noted Sinker. He added that Rationalizing Culture is a "dense and highly structured" book, and praised the author for being "refreshingly scrupulous" in keeping the distinction between modernism and postmodernism clear. Born's "originality and nuance" were praised by George E. Marcus in a Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute review. He allowed that "there may not be a widespread readership in anthropology for a study of musical avant-gardes," but believed that "Born's work will repay close attention by many anthropologists for its multiple insights and methodological strategies for the study of a complex contemporary institution."
Born provides an inside look into another cultural institution in her third book, Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke, and the Reinvention of the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is financed by the British government, has traditionally claimed to exist to serve the people. Yet as times, people, and technology have changed, the BBC has been forced to redefine itself time and again. To gather information for her book, Born spent ten years doing fieldwork at the BBC. Although the organization is known for its culture of secrecy, she was allowed free access to the workings of the BBC, even to high-level meetings. Her book includes extracts from the journals she kept while doing her field work, a format that "has annoyed some readers," according to New Statesman reviewer Neal Ascherson, the critic adding: "so much the better. Left in this form, the sharp-eyed wit of Born's notes is not homogenised in order to flow into the generalisations." Born records serious and widespread mismanagement at the BBC, and proposes possible reforms to address these issues. Ascherson noted that despite the problems the author witnessed with the BBC, Born believes that, broadcasting "can show that there is no one who is beyond our compassion and humanity, but also that there is no one who is exactly like us."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Australian Journal of Anthropology, August, 1997, Ian Maxwell, review of Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, p. 227.
Computer Music Journal, fall, 1999, Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, review of Rationalizing Culture, p. 118.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 1997, George E. Marcus, review of Rationalizing Culture, p. 165.
New Statesman, December 6, 2004, Neal Ascherson, review of Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke, and the Reinvention of the BBC, p. 50.
New Statesman & Society, January 5, 1996, Mark Sinker, review of Rationalizing Culture, p. 39.