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Material history: record collecting in the digital age

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 16:47 authored by Ellis, J

The rekindling popularity of the vinyl record and record collecting provide a counternarrative to the ideals of technological progress and supersession, signalling the paradoxical return of a physical music format in the digital realm where “the fetish of newness is at its most aggressive” (Tischleder and Wasserman 7). In this way, the vinyl record provides a disruptive lens through which to question media history as “a history of obsolescence, where new media displace and redefine older media” and explore how “obsolescence resists becoming obsolete” (Tischleder and Wasserman 2). Magaudda (29) argues that the dematerialisation of music media has reconfigured the role of materiality in media practices and has seen physical formats such as the vinyl record “bite back” as mediators of distinct listening practices and unique material relationships to music. Against the background of on-demand streaming services and retro nostalgia in the digital age (Hogarty), record collecting may be dismissed as a resistant and obsolete collecting practice. However, as this article will explore, record collecting can be characterised as a highly social practice, providing a means to communicate identity and taste, maintain a sense of the past, and orient the social life and personal history of the collector.

This article reports on the results of ethnographic research investigating the record collections of some young millennial music fans to locate the position and significance of vinyl records in their social lives as a legacy media format. To do this, I examine three key capacities of vinyl record collections in evoking autobiographical memories, maintaining personal histories and anchoring a sense of the past. The significance of personal record collections and collecting practices was investigated in a series of semi-structured in-depth interviews with a group of self-identified record collectors. The sentiments of the collector in describing their collecting can be found to reveal their acquisitions as transactions within the spheres of commodity culture and the gift economy, articulating the renewed appeal of vinyl records in the digital age. This perspective of the social meanings and media practices surrounding vinyl records in the digital age highlight the formats significance in understanding the complex trajectories of media history.


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M / C Journal










School of Social Sciences


Queensland University of Technology * Creative Industries Faculty

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Copyright 2017 The Author Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

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