Critical reflections on applied ethnomusicology and activist scholarship




LaFevers, Cory James

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Applied ethnomusicology emerged as a sub-discipline within the larger field of ethnomusicology in the late 1980s. The approach has gained considerable attention in recent years, evidenced by the publication of the first book-length treatment of the subject in 2010 and numerous scholarly papers and roundtables devoted to the topic at the 2011 SEM conference. I review of the literature in order to trace general trends and shifts in frame and approach in order to establish a context for critically reflecting on the role of activist scholarship in ethnomusicology today. Drawing from the literature on applied ethnomusicology, cultural rights projects in Brazil, and personal experiences working with black women hip-hop activists in Recife, I suggest that activist approaches allow greater possibilities for progressive social change, facilitating dialogue and critical reflection in ways that applied approaches do not. I propose that we must re-think activist scholarship in ethnomusicology, and in Brazil more specifically, seriously considering the possibilities and limitations of music making for establishing sustained community activism that incorporates dialogic pedagogy.




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