Project on Applause

Applause appears to be a basic and natural need on the part of listeners and spectators, but despite the very simple procedure involved in clapping, the phenomenon is highly complex. Applause can demonstrate the most varied things and, in an essential way, bridge over gaps—to the extent they exist—between the stage and public at any sort of performance. In addition, clapping has always represented a ritual public reaction with symbolic meaning.

In this project, the focus will be on the question of the relationship between the mass and the individual, between collectivity and delimitation: How does applause begin, and how does it end? Why do individuals applaud? When and how quickly does a person decide whether to clap? And: are people aware it usually makes no difference whether a person applauds or not? Questions regarding applause’s social role also emerge here, above all in respect to sharply regulated, restrictive contexts such as the classical concert, where as a sublimation of all other reactions applause is the only desired form of audience expression. Here clapping seems to correspond to a physical need to process collective emotions (Hanns-Werner Heister thus speaks of a “discharge of drives”), and the normative role of applause becomes particularly clear.

This project will consider the complex phenomenon of applause within the framework of music sociology, empirical research, social and civilizational history, anthropology, and aesthetics.