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Bachelor Thesis, 2010
36 Pages, Grade: 1,0
1.1 Purpose and the question of issue
1.2 Prior Research - what is music sociology and why is it important?
2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.1 George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley
2.2 Key Concepts
2.2.1 The concept of self
2.2.2 The concept of medium
2.2.3 The emotional foundation of musical preferences
2.2.4 From mix-tape to playlist
3.1 The gathering of data
4. RESULT AND ANALYSIS
4.1 Analysing the playlist
4.2 The process of data analysis
4.3 The “I”-construction of a playlist
4.4 The playlist as a medium and social phenomenon
4.5 Interpreting playlists - listening to the sound of the self
7.1 Interview guide
7.2 The Big Five personality traits
7.3 Personal Playlists
1. Hit ratio of personality traits and sub-groups by the audience
2. Hit ratio of each personality dimension by the audience
„ Our music catalogue contains millions and millions of tracks and albums.
It ’ s so enormous, in fact, that it ’ d take you 34 years of non-stop listening just to get through it. A nd that ’ s not counting the 10,000 new tracks we ’ re adding every day. “
(Spotify Homepage, 2010)
Weather Spotify, Myspace, Last.fm, Grooveshark, Pandora or Rhapsody, the variety of music streaming services is impressive. Even more overwhelming is the tremendous amount of music that those digital libraries make available to the individual at any time. Through the distribution of MP3- players and Smartphones it became apparent, that the entire music library can nowadays be put into one's pocket. However, even though musical interaction became simpler, it became more complex in its social consequences at the same time.
Profound changes in music have occurred over the past years, which have revolutionized music itself, and made it a far more specialised activity in modern times. Due to technological innovations, music can now be experienced by more people, for more of the time than ever before. The mass availability has given individuals unprecedented control over their own sound- environment. However, it has also confronted them with the simultaneous availability of countless genres of music, in which they have to orient themselves. People start filtering out, collating and organizing their digital libraries - like they used to do with their physical music collection - however, with the difference that the choice is within their own discretion. Without being restricted to the limited repertoire of music-distributors, nor being guided by the local radio program as a 'pre- selector' of the latest hits, the individual actively has to choose and determine his or her musical preferences. The search for the right song is thus associated with considerable effort.
Due to the massive volume of content available, the first wave of peer-to-peer file sharing technologies (e.g. Napster, Gnutella and KaZaA) tended to anonymise music sharing interactions (Brown et al. 2001), making the individual secondary to the explicit search for a specific music file (Voida, Grinter, Duchenaut 2005). By the same token, these early peer-to-peer applications were criticized, arguing that much of the sociality had been stripped away by massive-scale online music sharing (ibid.).
However, spurred by the advancement of the digital technology, the searching- organizing- and sharing of music has soon been brought to a whole new level. New digital music services, such as the aforementioned Spotify, Grooveshark etc., enable users to arrange and systematize their music collections according to personal preferences and specifications. By assembling different tracks from their digital music libraries and arranging them in a favoured sequence, the individual creates a personal compilation, similar to the ever-popular mix-tape, but in digital form: the musical playlist.
Yet, unlike the mix-tape, the playlist can be accessed and listened to by different people at the same time, even if they are in geographically separate locations. This “non-rivalrous” (Nicholson 2010) nature of the playlist facilitated the sharing and exchanging of personal compilations, and the playlist soon became a popular tool of communicative social exchange.
In April 2010, Spotify announced a “major revolution.” Personal playlists can now be published and are thus accessible to other users at any time. By connecting Spotify to one’s Facebook account, playlists can be exchanged easily and become an active part of the social networking activity. All of a sudden individuals could listen to and examine not only their own music collection but those of anyone using the same subnetwork. Browsing through other people’s playlists is today as common as analysing their ‘favourite books’ or ‘favourite movies’ in the ‘real world’ or in cyberspace. This phenomenon has even reached a point, where media reports talk about “a new social type of music voyeurism termed playlistism ” (Voida, Grinter, Duchenaut 2005).
Clearly, these changes are not only taking place on a technological level but go hand in hand with changes in the social structure. Recent discussions have thematised playlists in a political, legal, and ethical context however, neglect their social and social psychological nature. Why do more and more people compose, share and exchange playlists? What do people get out of it? Is there a social benefit behind it?
The present paper aims to answer those questions by investigating the social psychological foundation of the musical playlist and its communicative functionality. Using the theories of Cooley, Mead, Simmel and Solomon, I aim to analyse how young Swedish men and women utilize musical playlists in the social interaction with others. In order to pursue this investigation, I will conduct interviews and focus group discussions, emphasizing the participants’ experiences and attitudes towards playlists.
The following study will be divided into two main parts of which the first part discusses the theoretical framework needed for the analysis of the interviews and focus group discussions. The theoretical part will first provide an overview of Cooley and Mead’s theories, focusing on their definition of the self. Thereafter, I will introduce the main key concepts underlying the phenomenon of musical playlists, such as “the self,” “the concept of medium,” “musical preferences,” and “the concept of the playlist” itself. Following the theoretical part will be a brief passage on the material of the study and the method used in order to analyse the data. The second part of the paper comprises the analysis of the interviews and focus group discussions, which will be followed by a concluding discussion on those results.
“If the significance of music is irrevocably linked to the patternings of individual minds,
then it must likewise be linked to the fluid, dynamic and abstract patterning of the social world that lies behind the creation and construction of those minds. ”
(V ulliamy, Sheperd 1984:60)
For most people, music is to a greater or lesser extend, part of their lives. But it is only in advanced industrial societies, that music became a pervasive medium and thus a major element of the culture (Martin 1995:1). In pre-electronic times, music captured a much smaller part of most people's experience, however it is this contrast that may serve to arouse sociological curiosity (ibid.). Instead of taking music for granted, it seems to be appropriate to ask why it has come to obtain such a prominent place in the modern world. In western societies the concept of 'music' is generally defined as “some sort of pattern of organised sounds, deliberately created in order to produce certain effects” (ibid.:14). Nevertheless, this concept does not necessarily translate into other cultures. “The Musical Scale is not one, not 'natural', nor even founded necessarily on the laws of the constitution of musical sound … but very diverse, very artificial, and very capricious” (Ellis 1885:526). The various ways, patterns of sound are organised in different societies, is thus the outcome of cultural processes. However, the present paper will refer only to the western understanding of music and the social context of its consumption. What is central for (music-) sociologists in western societies are thus such matters as why do people create music, use it and respond to it in the ways that they do? According to Blumer (1969:2), people 'respond' toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them, thus, claims, statements or ideas people express about music are not barely objective descriptions but an indication of their attitude towards it. These claims and ideas must be investigated in order to understand the underlying structure of human action. Therefore the sociologist of music will not be concerned to establish the 'true' meaning of one musical piece, but will scrutinize what people believe it to mean, since it is these meanings, that will influence their responses to it (Martin 1995:30). To be exact, the sociology of music “concerns the production of musical culture and how this relates to social organizations and conventions” (North and Hargreaves 2008:3).
Over the last two decades there has been an explosive increase of interest in the sociological- and social-psychological basis of musical thinking. The most notable exponent of the early music sociology was Adorno (1949, 1973). For Adorno, music was associated with cognitive habits, modes of consciousness and historical developments. His work represents the most essential development in the twentieth century of the notion that music is a 'force' in social life, a “building material of consciousness and social structure”(DeNora 2000:2). However, in contrast to Adornos macro-sociological perspective there has been an increasing number of micro-sociological approaches with the focus on interactional processes (ibid.). DeNora's (1999, 2000, 2003) ethnographic investigations of music as a resource for structuring everyday experience are notable recent examples. She points to music as “dynamic material, a medium for making, sustaining and changing social worlds and social activities” (DeNora 2000:x). According to DeNora, music is a cultural resource, mobilized by actors for their “on-going work of self-construction.” The individual musical use is therefore “part and parcel of the cultural constitution of subjectivity (DeNora 1999). Based upon Giddens notion of the self as a reflexive project (DeNora 1999; Giddens 1991), DeNora employs ethnographic interview data in order to present music “in action as a device for ordering the self as an agent, and as an object known and accountable to oneself and others (…). Music is a material that actors use to elaborate, to fill out and fill in, to themselves and to others, modes of aesthetic agency and, with it, subjective stances and identities.” (DeNora 2000:73f.)
Self-identity, for DeNora is thus not a fixed, inner essence but a production of the continuing activity of individuals and music is the “technology for spinning the apparently 'continuous' tale of who one 'is'” (DeNora 1999). By the same token, Frith (1996) regards music as a signifier for identity formation. Music:
“seems to make possible a new kind of self-recognition, to free us from the everyday routines, from the social expectations with which we are encumbered (…). Music constructs our sense of identity through the experiences it offers of the body, time, and sociability” (Frith 1996:275).
According to Frith, it is the interplay between personal absorption into music, and the sense of it being a public cultural object, “what makes music important in the cultural localization of the individual in the social” (Frith 2004:139). He emphasizes how music creates an aesthetic experience that can only be understood by taking on both a subjective and a collective identity (Frith 1996). Moreover, Frith argues, that music is not only an aesthetic but also an ethical experience, since it is through the concepts of 'good' and 'bad' music, that we “establish our place in various music worlds and use music as a source of identity” (Frith 1996:72).
Certainly there is a growing body of research concerning music preferences, starting with Burt's (1939) early work, considering whether Eysenck's typology might underlie people's preferences for both, music and paintings. Furthermore, Payne (1967) conducted research concerning musical preference in relation to personality and found, that extroverts prefer music with human emotional overtones whereas introverts preferred music with a formal structure (see also Daoussis and McKelvie 1986). In this respect, music is compensating for aspects of personality (North and Hargreaves, 2008:115). However, in their study concerning rock and punk music preferences, Hansen and Hansen (1991) offered three contrasting theories; first of all, that people's preferences mostly reflect their personalities. “People are drawn towards particular music styles conforming to their self-concepts and their perception of social reality” (ibid). Secondly, Hansen and Hansen (1991) suggest, that listening to different types of music facilitates the shaping of people's attitudes and personality. Finally, this causal link is reciprocal and hence functions two-way. Therefore, musical tastes and preferences can form an important “statement of our values and attitudes” and music functions increasingly “as a means by which we formulate and express our individual identities.” (Hargreaves, Miell and McDonald 2002:1).
Further research has been conducted by Bensimon and Gilboa (2010), who examined the impact of personal music choice concerning one's sense of purpose in life. The study is based on the process of Musical Presentation - a therapeutic tool, in which people in a group setting “present themselves through musical pieces of their choice and subsequently receive feedback from their peers” (Bensimon and Gilboa, 2010). Conclusively the study illustrates, that Musical Presentation can help people to get in touch with their identity through music and that it increases a persons sense of purpose in life.
Finally, in the last decade a growing body of research has identified the implications around music sharing technologies. These new technological developments have paved the way for the increasing digital proliferation of music file sharing. Thus a wide range of digital modes for distributing music such as peer-to-peer sharing applications, mobile sharing or music streaming services, arouse interest in several academic disciplines.
However, the main research focus comprised mainly constraints of legal, ethical and political considerations (e.g. Brown, Sellen and Geelhoed 2001; Kasaras 2002; Ebane 2004; Voida, Grinter and Ducheneaut 2006; Fitzpatrick 2008; Bassoli 2006, Andersson and Liu 2009). These concerns - digital rights management laws, in particular - have led to a nearly exclusive research focus on those very issues. There is, however, a gap in the research, emphasizing the social-psychological nature of those new technologies, the musical playlist respectively.
It is for this reason that I have chosen to investigate the significance of the playlist as a social phenomenon, analysing its function in establishing social relations and communication.
Social constructionists represent the idea that the world is socially manufactured through human thought and language. In fact, society is unlike Durkheimian ideas, not viewed as a pre-existent domain, but rather as the product of individuals engaging with one another. According to Berger and Luckmann (1967), the relationship between human beings and the social world is a dialectical one. “That is, man (not, of course, in isolation but in his collectivities) and his social world interact with each other. The product acts back upon the producer” (Berger and Luckmann 1967:61). Externalization, objectification and internalization are the three dialectical moments in which the individual participates in the social reality.
Moreover, constructionists suggest, that our understanding of the social world is culturally and historically determined. Thus, the meaning of events is dependent upon the concrete context in which they appear (Garfinkel 1984). Furthermore, constructionism argues against the notion of essential structures within society and thus the individual. Instead, the observer is summoned to emphasize the relativistic and subjective nature of the social world, where all knowledge is perspectival and contingent (Lyotard 1984).
These underpinning facets can be subdivided into two main perspectives: on the one hand, emphasis is put on the role of human agency in the construction of the social world (Giddens 1991, Mead 1962, Cooley 1902); on the other hand, the concept of discourse takes centre stage in the process of shaping experience (Foucault 1972). For the purpose of this paper, the former perspective, represented by Cooley and Mead, is of main importance and will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
George Herbert Mead published rather little during his lifetime, however, after his death his lectures were published in book form, Mind, Self and Society (1934), Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1936), The Philosophy of the A ct (1938), and his work reached a broader audience. Mead aimed to investigate the genesis of the self both in terms of its practical social experience (its external aspects), as well as its experience as consciousness (its inner aspects) (Swingewood 2000:167).
“Human society, as we know it could not exist without minds and selves, since all of its most characteristic features presuppose the possession of minds and selves by its individual members.” (Mead 1964:227)
According to Mead, it is through the mind and the self that humanity has the capacity to reason and to reflect. The self, however, exists only in relation to social groups, since “the individual himself belongs to a social structure, a social order” (ibid.:1f). Mind and self, consciousness and action, were therefore cooperative not individual phenomena involving social relations, roles and social institutions (Swingewood 2000:168).
Mead was concerned with developing a concept of symbolically mediated interaction, beginning with “an objective social process” and working inward “through the importation of the social process of communication into the individual by the medium of the vocal gesture” (Mead 1934: xxii).
According to Mead the complete self is conceived as being an “I” and a “me”. The “I” is the active agent and principle of individual impulse, which is able to change the social structure. It is the “response of the organism to the attitudes of the others.” Whereas the “me” is the “organized set of attitudes of others which one assumes.” Mead's emphasis on the role of language in the development of the self suggests, that the “me” arises out of dialogic communication between individuals and the 'inner flow of speech' (Swingewood 2000:168).
The intellectual influences on Mead's approach were abundant and diverse: the philosophy of pragmatism (Dewey, James), Darwinian evolutionism, nineteenth-century romanticism, German idealism and the ideas of Charles Cooley (ibid.). Mead however, criticised Cooley for a too subjectivist notion of the self. By rejecting the dualism of individual and society, Cooley argued that they both constituted 'collective' and 'distributive' aspects of the same phenomenon. The self emerges out of a process of communication with others and society as a whole (Swingewood 2000:167). It is a society where each individual is reflective or a “looking-glass self,” which consists of “the imagination of our appearance to the other person, the imagination of his judgement of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification” (Cooley 1902:184). Moreover, Cooley introduces the concept of a group-self or “we” which is an “I” including other individuals. If the “I” is the self, the “we” is the larger community, a group which one identifies himself in a social situation. By defining the self in terms of the ideas, which others composed of it, Cooley established a rather psychological perspective in his conception of society. He discusses suggestibility and choice, excitement and habit as predisposed factors to each individual in the relation of social mind to the organic structure and the process of socialization.
As this paper aims to analyse the social psychological underpinnings of musical playlists and their utilization in the social interaction of individuals, Cooley's approach will be vital for the analysis of the interviews and focus group discussion. However, it is through the understanding of Mead and the viewpoint of social constructionism, that it becomes clear how the self, responsible for the compilation of musical playlists, is constructed. It is an “I” as described by Charles Horton Cooley - an emotional self-feeling.
“ In today's world, deciding what music to listen to
is a significant part of deciding and announcing to people not just who you 'want to be' … but who you are. ”
Since there is a considerable amount of current research on diverse aspects of the self and its development, the following chapter aims to clarify some of the current terminology in this field. However, the present paper will be limited to the social psychological underpinnings of the self, emphasizing social constructionist and interactionist perspectives.
William James (1890) was perhaps one of the first theorists who tried to comprehend the self - which he referred to as “the most puzzling puzzle with which psychology has to deal.” (see Hargreaves, Miell, MacDonald 2002:7). In the past century, this puzzle has stimulated a fair bit of effort to comprehend and explain the meanings of self and identity.
First and foremost the self-system is based on various self-concepts, or images, which are different ways in which an individual sees himself (ibid.). The various self-concepts intertwine and form an overall view of oneself - the self-identity, a “vast domain of meanings attached to the self and comprising the content and organization of self-concepts” (Gecas 1982). Identities locate an individual in social space by virtue of the relationships that these identities imply. Moreover, they are themselves symbols whose meanings alter across situations and actors (Howard 2000). Hence it can be stated that identities are “strategic social constructions created through interaction, with social and material consequences” (Howard 2000).
But how is the self actually “constructed”? Based on interactionist literature, the self is created through language, both directly in interaction, and discursively, through different kinds of media (McAdams 1995). It is through the process of communication with others and with society as a whole, that the self arises (Cooley 1902). According to Cooley, society is an organic whole, where each individual is reflective or a “looking-glass self”, which means that one imagines one’s self through the perspective of the other and internalizes a self-feeling which arises from the imagined judgement of the other.
“We are ashamed to seem evasive in the presence of a straightforward man, cowardly in the presence of a brave one, gross in the eyes of a refined one, and so on. We always imagine, and in imagining share, the judgements of the other mind.” (Cooley 1902:185)
Thus the individual constantly internalizes judgements of the others directed towards the self, which explains the instrumental character of the other in the socialization process of the self.
“As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it.” (ibid.:184)
For Cooley, the empirical self, named “I”, means primarily self-feeling, and is “simply an idea, or system of ideas, drawn from the communicative life, that the mind cherishes as its own” (ibid.:179). It is regarded as an instinctive function, defined and developed by experience, incorporated with any kind of sensations, perceptions, apperceptions and personal ideas which “undergoes differentiation and refinement just as any other sort of crude innate feeling” (ibid.:171). Hence, for Cooley the self is essentially a reflexive process of social interaction.
Issues of self and identity are complex and multi-faceted, thus drawing distinctions is inevitable and has heuristic value. A common distinction is between social and personal identity. The former refers to the social categories to which an individual belongs, strives to belong or shares important values with. The latter represents an individual's unique attributes and values and reflects his or her personal history (North, Hargreaves 1998:71). When considering personal identity, it can be further distinguished between the private and the public self. The private self is “the self that only you know, your own desire, aspirations, and beliefs about yourself, that you may or may not wish to communicate with others” (ibid.). The public self refers to the person one presents to others, the enacted self, which correlates closely to Goffman's (1959, 1963), and Mead's conceptualization of the self.
According to Mead, the self and the whole universe are social. “The social character of the universe we find in the situation in which the novel event is in both the old order and the new with is advent heralds” (Mead 1932:49). Organisms do not only affect one another from without, but also stimulate itself and the other and thus assume the role of the other. Thereby conversation is possible and the individual can control himself by the sense of his effect upon others. “This is the important thing to learn, and it is the lesson of becoming human, of developing a self that is also social” (ibid.). Therefore it is in the cooperation with others, that the public self is created.
However, the self as referred to in this paper equals Cooley's, or the private self, addressing the personal identity of an individual. It constitutes a self-feeling, driven by its own imagination and dependent on its judgement of the attitude of others towards itself. Based on Cooley's definition of the self, I want to argue that musical playlists function as symbolic expressions of the “I” and thus partake in the process of self-construction.
“ Implicit to the concept of media is the dialogue
that takes place between the delivery technology and the people who are using it. ” (Nicholson 2010)
The word “media” is widely used in conversation and present literature, often signifying different things to different people. In the present paper, media will be considered as the combination of specific technology and, “the complex set of exchanges that occur between users of technology and the technology itself” (Nicholson 2010). According to Henry Jenkins, there are two levels that constitute a medium. On the first level, it is a “technology that enables communication” whereas on the second, a medium is “a set of associated 'protocols' or social and cultural practices that have grown up around that technology” (Jenkins 2006:13f.). Thus a medium is not only a technological but also a social phenomenon. As stated by Simmel (1971:24), any given social phenomenon consists of two inseparable factors, namely content and societal form. The content is “the materials, so to speak - of sociation everything that is present in individuals (…) - drive, interest, purpose, inclination, psychic state, movement - everything that is present in them in such a way as to engender or mediate effects upon others or to receive such effect” (ibid.).
However, these motivations are not social yet. “Strictly speaking, neither hunger nor love, work nor religiosity, technology nor the functions and results of intelligence, are social” (ibid.). It is through the transformation of the isolated individuals into “specific forms of being with and for one another” (ibid.) that content attains social reality. Thus interactions are the underlying concept of sociation, since it is because of them “that the individuals, in whom these driving impulses and purposes are lodged, form a unity, that is, a society” (ibid.:23). This unity, or sociation can be of quite different degrees, based on the type and the intimacy of interaction, which it accomplishes. Moreover, the content is realized by “using quite dissimilar forms of sociation as its medium or vehicle” whereas the forms, in which the interests are realized, remain identical, however diverse the interests are that initially give rise to the sociations. According to Simmel, life produces certain forms in which “it expresses and realizes itself; works of art, religions, sciences, technologies, laws, and innumerable others” (ibid.: 375).These forms are frameworks for the creative life and constitute culture. For Simmel, there are two meanings of the concept of culture, namely “objective culture” and “subjective culture” (ibid.).
“The concept of 'objective culture' can be used to designate things in that state of elaboration, development and perfection which leads the psyche to its own fulfillment or indicates the path to be traversed by individuals or collectivities on the way to a hightened existence. By subjective culture I mean the measure of development of persons thus attained” (ibid.).
Therefore, subjective and objective culture, are in no way analogous concepts, but subjective culture is the overarching goal. Its measure is the magnitude to which the psychic life-process utilizes the objective goods and accomplishments. Evidently, subjective culture can only exist with the pre-existence of objective culture.
For the purpose of this paper, I will discuss the playlist as a media form unto itself. Simmel’s concepts about content and form, subjective and objective culture as well as the process of sociation are vital to the investigation of the musical playlist and its social functionality.
“Nothing more clearly affirms one's 'class',
nothing more infallibly classifies, than tastes in music ” (Bourdieu, 1984:18)
Music listening preferences are expressions of taste and most usefully are defined as “stable, long- term preferences for particular types of music, composers, or performers” (Abeles 1980; Price 1986). However, the sociology of taste, the “master of the analysis of hidden determinants of cultural practices”(Hennion 2004:131), has many origins. In Pierre Bourdieu's classic Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984), he accomplishes a detailed empirical investigation “into the hierarchies of power that underpin both cultural production and consumption” (Biron 2009:322). He argues that taste, and indeed all consumption behaviour, arises out of the struggles for social recognition and status. Different social classes can thus be identified by the way in which they express their tastes in art, music, style of clothing, preferred food, or home decoration (Seymour 2004:21). In this respect, Hennion (2004) criticizes Bourdieu's viewpoint, since it portrays taste only as “culture's way of masking domination” and is thus “radically unproductive” (Hennion 2004:131). In fact, Hennion suggests to treat the individual more seriously by “conceiving taste as a reflexive activity of amateurs” (Hennion 2001, Frith 1996). Taste is therefore understood as reflexive work, performed on one’s own attachments to music.
“The amateur’s taste is no longer considered an arbitrary election rather, it is a collective technique, whose analysis helps us to understand the ways we make ourselves sensitized, to things, to ourselves, to situations and to moments, while simultaneously controlling how those feelings might be shared and discussed with others.” (Hennion 2007:98)
 For more information about peer-to-peer file sharing technologies, see Voida et al. (2006), Ebane (2004) and Oram
 Eysenck developed a model of personality, based on traits that he believed were highly heritable and had a likely psychophysiological foundation. The three main traits according to Eysenck were: extraversion - introversion (E), neuroticism-emotional stability (N), and psychoticism (P) (Larsen & Buss, 2005: 75)
 Hennion uses the French word ‘amateur’, because it is “more appropriate and general than ‘enthusiast’ or ‘fan’(...). It is used in a wider sense than the negative English one, of amateur as ‘non-professional’,(...) and it designates any lay-person engaged in a systematic activity, which makes them develop, in various degrees, their sensitivities or abilities in that domain” (Hennion 2007:112).
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