Towards a Social Theory of Musical Identities

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In this article I address three questions: What is meant by the notion of 'musical identity'?, How are musical identities formed?, and What are the responsibilities of music educators in terms of shaping musical identities? Throughout, my purpose is to show the social nature and complexity of musical identity and the crucial role that music teachers can play in inter­vening in the process of identity formation. This argument is prefaced on assumptions that musical identities are multiple rather than singular and no particular identity is the most desirable. In a world of ''multiplicities and pluralities'' in which people from many different ethnic, religious, linguistic, and other cultural backgrounds dwell together, sharing common beliefs and practices and diverging from different others, some way needs to be found to enable a civil society in which humankind can dwell in peace and happiness. It presupposes societies that, in our time at least, are often diverse, and cultures in which there is a need to cope with barriers, suspicions, and hostilities between individuals and groups that can readily arise without the means to negotiate them peacefully. In Seyla Benhabid's view, following Vaclav Havel, rather than an ''epidermis'' that overlays often deeply held differences, cultures need to be negotiated in ways that support civil discourse and the freedom to disagree with others. As one important site of this struggle, education is at the center of cultural transformation as it also needs to prefigure the society that is desirable. To this end, music teachers, especially those in publicly supported schools, cannot avoid, indeed need to embrace, their political and cultural as well as musical roles of transmitting, shaping and re-shaping beliefs and practices from the past. My theoretical observations are necessarily philosophical in that they ask questions about how things ought to be.
Towards a social theory of musical identities. In Music and Human Beings: Music and Identity, edited by Börje Stålhammar, (Örebro: Universitetsbiblioteket, 2006), 27-44.
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