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A critical ethnography of democratic music listening

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2012

Marissa Silverman*
1 Normal Ave, John J. Cali School of Music, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ 07043,


The purpose of this critical ethnography was to investigate how music educators can approach the development of students’ music listening abilities democratically in order to deepen students’ musical understandings and, by teaching through music, create pathways for student–teacher transactions that are inclusive, educative, ethical and transformative. Critical ethnographies utilise qualitative data collection methods (e.g. observations, journaling, interviews, audiotapes) for sociopolitical and ethical purposes. That is, critical ethnographies are ‘critical’ in two senses: (a) they are framed and carried out with a social-ethical sense of responsibility to critique and, if necessary, change the status quo of specific contexts they investigate and (b) they are grounded in ‘a self-referential form of reflexivity that aims to criticise the ethnographer's own production of an account’ (Schwandt, 2007, p. 51). One finding of this critical ethnography of my urban music classroom is that students are most apt to learn music listening effectively and enjoyably when afforded democratic and creative opportunities to express their beliefs about the natures and values of the musics they decide to select, experience and discuss critically. Another finding is that although democratic teaching and learning inevitably involves conflicts, participants can and do learn to manage and transform these conflicts constructively. One important implication of these findings is that music classrooms can be powerful contexts and means for students’ social-ethical development.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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