In a particular interview, late 20th century thinker Michel Foucault talked about his use of problematization in his own work. He described problematization in an interview as taking and examining “…the totality of…practices that introduces something into the play of true and false and constitutes it as an object for thought (whether in the form of moral reflection, scientific knowledge, political analysis, etc.)”.
Within his own work, for instance, he explained how he asked “…how and why, at a given moment, madness was problematized through a certain institutional practice and a certain apparatus of knowledge. Similarly…I was trying to analyze the changes in the problematization of the relations between crime and punishment through penal practices and penitentiary institutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries”.
Problematization, as Michael Crotty wrote, does not take the common knowledge of a field for granted. Defamiliarizing oneself from what one knows and is considered right or wrong, one cleans a slate for further inquiry. One can take, say, the history of crime and punishment. Without positing what is right or wrong and taking things as getting better incrementally over time, the history can be taken on an equal playing field.
This repositioning lets one be open to insight and strange discoveries. What if public execution had something that was more humane in it than the incarceration of today? Those gut wrenching questions are ones that Foucault pronounced in his work using problematization.
Music, like any field, has many objects of thought that have been systemized and over time taken for granted. Through problematization, what questions can we ask ourselves about music that might be seen as dead ends or puzzling? It could lead us to ask questions of music that had been on the periphery until now.
But what if nothing comes except questions? No answers? Maybe, perhaps maybe, that is the point. At the root of problematization is “problem”.
Foucault once said that philosophy was one way of interrogating ourselves. There are enough things that are already taken for granted in music. Let’s interrogate it.