This paper looks at peer review in the “pure” pole (Bourdieu, 1998) of artistic production, in the domain of contemporary art music. Based on observation of peer review panels in the United States and interviews with panelists in the US and France, I look specifically at the dynamics of evaluation in the middle of ranked lists – what I call the “fuzzy middle”. In this part of ranked lists, outcomes are unclear and often arbitrary. Two factors primarily affect outcomes: 1) a lack of recall on the part of evaluators regarding the specifics of the objects being evaluated, which leads to an attitude of indifference, and 2) confusion as to how disputes over artistic quality should be resolved. I find that uncertainty is present especially regarding the role that emotional reactions to the music being evaluated should play. In addition, status uncertainty is present, in that not all participants are willing or able to participate equally in the evaluation process, and the interpersonal dynamics of these panels therefore heavily affects the outcomes of the evaluation. What results is that objects in the “fuzzy middle” are evaluated collectively using criteria that are developed ad hoc and on a case by case basis, as a way to translate emotional reactions into objectifiable criteria. I do not find, however, that quality uncertainty (Karpik, 2007; Menger, 2009) plays a role in these evaluations: at least at an individual level, these evaluators do not express doubts about their evaluations of artistic quality. This presentation will primarily be based on a detailed analysis of one evaluative case: an applicant that caused a sustained debate in my observation of a peer review panel in the American organization in 2012. I will use this case to develop more general observations regarding the evaluation of cultural objects not intended for a mass market.
Bourdieu, P. (1998). Les règles de l’art : genèse et structure du champ littéraire. Paris: Le Seuil. Karpik, L. (2007). L’économie des singularités. Paris: Gallimard.
Menger, P.-M. (2009). Le travail créateur: S’accomplir dans l’incertain. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard.
Shibata, Yasuko: The Pleasure of Polish-Japanese Relations: Polish Discourse on the “Love” of Japanese of Fryderyk Chopin’s Music