16.04.2018: "Animal Instincts - (Mis)adventures in the UK’s Musicological Jungle"

16.04.2018: "Animal Instincts - (Mis)adventures in the UK’s Musicological Jungle"

erstellt am 17. April 2018

Guest lecture by Henry Stobart (Royal Holloway)

This week we had our guest lecturer Henry Stobart (Royal Holloway) presenting a paper on "Animal Instincts - (Mis)adventures in the UK’s Musicological Jungle" as part of our lecture series on recent trends and new directions in ethnomusicology.


A decade has now passed since the publication of the volume The New (Ethno)musicologies (2008). In the introduction of this edited volume, I questioned Bruno Nettl’s characterization of musicologists as lions (the kings of the jungle) and ethnomusicologists as cheetahs, who needed to be quick-witted and nimble to survive in the musicological jungle. He noted that, at the time of writing, the lions were being kind to the cheetahs, but warned that this could all change. For me, relating these disciplinary distinctions to identity – distinct species and animal instincts - was problematic. Instead, I suggested conceiving of music’s sub-disciplinary specialities (or methods) as places - a waterhole, a shady bower – that anyone could potentially visit to share specialised knowledge. In short there is much room in music scholarship for interdisciplinary collaboration, and fortunately most scholars I know appear to relish this as much as I do.

However, true to Nettl’s portrayal, certain music scholars (cheetahs as well as lions) seem deeply attached to their distinct sub-disciplinary identities, and find it hard to put aside these animal instincts. Indeed, as the numbers and seniority of the cheetahs has grown (the number of professors in ethnomusicology in the UK having now passed double figures), a handful of lions have become restless and begun lashing out. In this presentation, I explore some of the forms that these attacks have taken; attacks that - as in Nettl’s allegorical musicological jungle - seem to be partially motivated by anxieties over access to resources. One bitter assault exclaims: “ethnomusicology, in the UK at least, increasingly attempts to colonize the Western-music syllabuses of our universities.”

Undoubtedly, there are important questions to be debated regarding the types of skills, methods, approaches and topics that should be included in a university music degree. However, the attacks I discuss here – that often display fundamental misunderstandings of ethnographic methods, contexts and theoretical debates – seem more aimed to discredit, rather than to constructively critique or find common ground. As such they also threaten to jeopardise the development of a more emancipated, forward looking and holistic music studies.


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