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  4. The Ethics and Aesthetics of Studying Music in Situations of Conflict and Violence: A Participatory Workshop




The Ethics and Aesthetics of Studying Music in Situations of Conflict and Violence: A Participatory Workshop




Please note external venue: Room G22, The Institute of Musical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

In recent years, music scholars working in diverse situations of conflict and violence have grappled with increasingly complex questions about the ethical dimensions of their work and with the interplay of the personal, professional and political. This workshop explores some of the issues arising from research in such contexts: How do we convey the intensity of embodied experience in violent conflict without resorting to voyeuristic exoticism or minimizing the asymmetry of modern warfare? Is it possible to apply the same ethical principles and analytical paradigms to both victims and perpetrators? What methodological issues arise when we seek to collect ethnographic or archival material or collaborate with non-academics in conflict situations? What ethical issues arise when our research (and careers) are based on the suffering of others? What forms of writing or other media are best suited to representing what we have witnessed or translating our 'findings' for different audiences? Should our disciplinary ethical statements be extended to situations of violent conflict and human rights violations? What kind of support might we ourselves need after exposure to extreme violence or trauma, and where might we find it?

This participatory workshop emerges from a successful panel held at the 2017 British Forum for Ethnomusicology conference, at which it became evident that there is an urgent need for in-depth discussion and for the development of practical strategies for dealing with such issues.

The workshop may be particularly relevant to doctoral students and early career researchers but we welcome scholars from all career stages. Whilst the idea for the workshop arose from discussions among ethnomusicologists, these issues clearly affect a broad range of music scholars and practitioner researchers and we welcome a wide range of participants from across music studies. If there is interest from participants, we have the possibility of composer-focused sessions exploring the ethics of composing with the sounds of protest; issues faced by composers working in conflict or post-conflict zones; and so on.

Attendance is free but advance registration is requested for planning purposes.

Suggested preparatory reading:

1. Special issue of Anthropology Matters (11/2; 2009) ‘Fieldwork Support’, edited by Amy Pollard

2. Amy Pollard’s introduction: 'Field of Screams: Difficulty and Ethnographic Fieldwork', Anthropology Matters, 11(2).

3. Tiffany Page (2017)  'Vulnerable Writing as a Feminist Methodological Practice', Feminist Review, 115(1); 13-29.


9:30 Registration  -  (Room G22)

10:00 Welcome (G22)

10:15 Session 1  (G22)

Conflict, violence and music: identifying the issues

11:30 Coffee

11.45 Session 2 (rooms G22, G26, 104, 349)

A - Ethical Research and Practice: Challenges and Decisions 

What kinds of challenges arise in the course of fieldwork or research on the ground? What kinds of decisions might we be required to make? What issues are raised for us as researchers or creative artists around questions of identity and entanglement? What about duty of care – to our informants and collaborators, to ourselves and to our students? How does the reality on the ground relate to the world of institutional ethical review?

B - Memory and Experience: Processing Trauma

How do we as researchers process traumatic situations that we encounter in fieldwork? How do we deal with our own possible trauma as well as that of the individuals with whom we are working? How prepared can we be? At what point (either during or after fieldwork) might we need to seek help? How do we deal with situations in which our own perception or moral stance might differ from that of our informants or research participants?

13:00 Lunch (not provided)

14:00 Session 3 (rooms G22, G26, 104, 349)

C - Methodological and Analytical Perspectives: Challenges and Limitations

What are the methodological challenges – both practical and epistemological – that we face as researchers, writers or composers seeking to collect material and collaborate with people in conflict situations? What are the limitations? In what ways might we need to adapt our methodology as our work progresses? What kinds of approaches or strategies have people found most useful in their own work? What kinds of issues arise when we come to analyse our material? How do we handle the different standpoints of victims and perpetrators from an analytical perspective?

D - Writing, Expression and Representation: Conveying Difficult Experiences and Competing Viewpoints

What challenges and dilemmas do we face when attempting to convey the experience of others in our own work? What are the potential pitfalls? How do we avoid the risk of over-dramatisation or exoticisation, or appearing to be voyeuristic or partisan? How might we best present viewpoints with which we might disagree or with which readers/listeners/viewers might be uncomfortable? What forms or styles of writing or other media are best suited to representing what we have witnessed and translating the personal experiences of others for the audiences for our own work?

E – Optional Composer–focused group to run in parallel with A/B or C/D

What kinds of challenges and dilemmas do composers face when working with materials relating to situations of conflict or trauma? What practical and ethical concerns arise in the course of the initial research or gathering of material? In the composition process, what issues arise around the representation of the pain or suffering of others? What issues arise in the way in which the finished work is presented to audiences? What kind of impact or response are we hoping for? What about the continuing relationship between the composer and the people whose experiences have informed the composition?

15:15 Tea


Final plenary: towards best practice (room 349)

17:00 Close

Workshop Facilitators

Caroline Bithell
Jan Hendrickse
Thomas Hilder
Angela Impey
Kerstin Klenke
Clare Launchbury
Hettie Malcomson
Tullis Rennie
Clara Wenz
Abigail Wood
Chloe Alaghband-Zadeh

Workshop Convenors

Caroline Bithell, University of Manchester
Hettie Malcomson, University of Southampton
Laudan Nooshin, City, University of London
Abigail Wood, University of Haifa

Speaker bios

Abigail Wood (Senior lecturer in Ethnomusicology and Head of the Department of Music, University of Haifa) has written widely on contested sonic spaces in Jerusalem. Currently, she is PI of a research project focusing on Palestinian Arab wedding musicians in the Galilee region, and is working on an article about wartime soundscapes in Israel. She is interested in the ways in which the sound world of military conflict is entangled with everyday auditory experiences, and in the positionality of researchers and students working in conflicted regions. Her other research interests include music and religion, soundscapes and gender. She is currently co-editor of Ethnomusicology Forum.

Caroline Bithell (Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of Music, University of Manchester) has conducted long-term fieldwork in Corsica and Georgia (Caucasus). She has particular interests in music’s entanglement in political conflict, fieldwork practice in challenging environments, and the complexities of ethical considerations in relation to ethnographic fieldwork in the humanities and social sciences. She has also served as chair of a University Ethics Committee. Her other research interests include music revivals, the politics and aesthetics of world music, music and political activism, the politics of heritage, and cultural tourism.

Hettie Malcomson (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Southampton) currently holds a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to research hip hop and violence in Mexico, and has previously conducted longitudinal fieldwork with Mexican danzón practitioners. She is also completing a project on practical and ethical strategies of self-care and self-protection for academic researchers and activists working in violent contexts (funded by a HEFCE Newton ODA grant). She has served as a university Ethics Committee member. Otherwise, she is interested in what the ethnographic study of music tells us about social inequalities, specifically racism, ageism, gender, ambivalence and knowledge production.

Tullis Rennie (Lecturer in Music, City, University of London) is a composer, improvising trombonist, electronic musician, and field recordist. His work encompasses sound installation, community-engaged participative projects, multi-channel concert works, video, mixed media and live/improvised performances. Much of Tullis's varied compositional output has a common focus in developing a musical language that seeks a threshold between (auto)ethnographic documentation and music/sound art. Recent work has addressed the ethics and aesthetics of composing with the sounds of protest - including audio composition Manifest (2013), audio-visual work Carioca Sound Stories (2014) and articles published in Organised Sound and Leonardo Music Journal.

Dr Chloë Alaghband-Zadeh (Loughborough University) is an ethnomusicologist, specialising in contemporary South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Her research explores how South Asian cultural practices (especially music) reproduce structures of power and inequality, such as gender and class. She is currently a Research Associate on the project Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination (The Leverhulme Trust), which investigates memories of the 1947 Partition of British India in South Asian communities in the UK. She brings to this workshop interests in the ethics of working with distressing memories and in how gender and sexuality shape disciplinary understandings of ethnographic fieldwork.

Clara Wenz is a third year PhD student at the Music Department of the School of Arts at SOAS, University of London (SOAS), where she investigates the ethno-historical memory of the musical life of Aleppo. For the past two years, she has been conducting ethnographic fieldwork among Jewish and Muslim diasporic and refugee communities in Berlin, Beirut, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – a time in which she learned about the many challenges that arise from fieldwork in zones of conflict.

Thomas Hilder is associate professor in ethnomusicology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), with training in ethnomusicology at Royal Holloway, University of London (PhD, MMus). Focusing on popular music repertories of Northern Europe, his interdisciplinary research responds to current debates in postcolonialism, digital media studies and gender and queer theory. He is author of Sámi Musical Performance and the Politics of Indigeneity in Northern Europe (2015), lead editor of Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media (2017) and currently chairs the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group.

Kerstin Klenke (University of Vienna) is an ethnomusicologist with a focus on the postsocialist world, particularly on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Following her PhD project on popular music and politics in Uzbekistan, she has recently started to study the nexus between war, music and memory in Abkhazia. The particular challenges posed by her fieldsites –  authoritarian Uzbekistan and post-war Abkhazia – have triggered her interest in political and ethical questions around fieldwork. Other areas of interest include ethnomusicology's history and politics of ideas as well as socialist approaches to music research.

Claire Launchbury undertook doctoral research in Musicology and French Studies on French Cultural Memory at the BBC during the Second World War. Her work now focuses on post-conflict Lebanon in literature, film, music and projects and Beirut is the topic of her forthcoming monograph, Beirut and the Urban Memory Machine with Amsterdam University Press. She has worked in Ireland, France and Australia and been a visiting scholar at AUB and visiting lecturer at USJ. She is currently training in therapeutic care for refugees at the Tavistock Centre.

Angela Impey is Associate Head of Music at SOAS, University of London. Her research examines music as oral history and political testimony in southern Africa and the African Horn, and focuses on cultural citizenship, and environmental an transformative justice. In 2011 she launched the MA Music in Development, which examines how music’s agentive capacities ac in different contexts to advance local needs and interests.

Jan Hendrickse is a composer, improviser and sound artist. He has been an artist-in-residence at ACME studios and at John Jones Project Space creating installations for galleries and outdoor spaces. As a performer he specialises in a range of wind instruments. He has travelled widely, researching playing techniques from all over the world as well as making and adapting instruments for various performance situations. Jan has performed or collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Ornette Coleman, Howard Shore, Nitin Sawhney, David Toop, Rhodri Davies and many leading orchestras and ensembles. His playing also features on a large number of film scores including The Lord of The Rings, The Passion of the Christ, Narnia, Apocalypto and many others. He is a co-founder of New Music Incubator, an international professional development residency. He studied at the Royal College of Music, The Guildhall School of Music & Drama and has an MA in Sound Art from University of the Arts London (LCC).

Laudan Nooshin is Reader in Music and Head of the Music Department at City, University London. Her research interests include creative processes in Iranian music; music and youth culture in Iran; music and gender; neo/post-colonialism and Orientalism; and music in Iranian cinema. Recent publications include Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity (2015, Ashgate), Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia (ed. 2009, Ashgate) and The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music (ed. 2013, Routledge).

Conference Supporters

Institute of Musical Research, in association with the School of Advanced Study, University of London (funding supplied by Nick Baker)
Additional funding from the Royal Musical Association

Please address any enquiries about the workshop to Gabrielle Messeder:

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When and where

9.30am - 5.30pmTuesday 20th February 2018

Senate House Senate House
Malet St
London WC1E 7HU United Kingdom

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