Ethnomusicology and Critical Pedagogy as Cultural Work: Reflections on Teaching and Fieldwork

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[T]he curriculum is collapsing under the force of these contradictions, for it is no longer capable of dealing with the new power/knowledge relations that shape the subject.

(Morton and Zavarzadeh 1991: 2)

In this essay, I will explore some possible relationships between music, education, and cultural politics. These three things aren't put side by side as often as they might and linking them may, on the face of it, seem more appropriate to music education or ethnomusicology than to musicology or music theory. The very terms through which our disciplines have been defined make it difficult to think of the study of music (whether Western art music or beyond) in terms of cultural politics or social action, but I aim here to suggest that teaching music could be a primary site for such redefinition. One of the long-standing "problems" in music scholarship generally is its interface with the political—an interface often refused. I write from the viewpoint of an ethnomusicologist but believe these issues are pertinent across the music curriculum.

I have been working on a book about Asian American musics since 1993 and I have been ideologically affected by this research in ways that I could not have predicted at the outset. Many of the Asian American performers I spend time with are completely focused on issues of social change and many describe themselves as activists; they take it for granted that the arts are inherently pedagogical, in the sense that the arts carry with them the possibility of suggesting—that is, teaching—new social models. As a fieldworker/student, I take away a particular lesson from these experiences, which leads me to suggest that a more explicit intersection of critical pedagogy and cultural work could revitalize our respective corners of music education. These issues are particularly obvious in ethnomusicology because the politics and rhetoric of multiculturalism have been central to ethnomusicology's place in the academy for almost a decade. As ethnomusicologists, we cannot afford to shy away from discussing ideologies of multiculturalism as this particular social movement created niches for us in music departments in the first place; I wish that it were similarly necessary for musicology, music education, theory, and composition to address the terms of their ideological location within academe. My present research has convinced me that critical multiculturalism and radical pedagogy could converge in music education generally and, of course, such a change would have a number of ramifications. Ethnomusicology would no longer stand at the margins of music departments and, by the same token, ethnomusicologists' consistent marginalization of music education would have to change. In taking critical multiculturalism seriously and thus teaching from/by/toward a pedagogy of subject positions, the politics of difference would move to the center of our disciplines and could no longer be treated merely as a symptom of our times. In the spirit of pedagogy, I will provide examples of moments, all taken from my own experience, when teaching and cultural politics came head to head. Let me begin with a bad class.

 

Pedagogical interlude #1: Multiculturalism is good to hear

In 1993, before I had gotten very far into my research on Asian American musics, I decided to include a single class session on Asian America in my world music survey at the University of Pennsylvania. I had recordings by the pop group Hiroshima, jazz pianist Jon Jang, and Soh Daiko (an Asian American taiko troupe), but I also wanted to show that Asian American musics often problematize categories and genres; to this end, I played my students an excerpt from an album titled People of Color: Here and Now [see Figure 1]. I found this cassette in a used bookstore in Pasadena, where the store owner gave it to me saying, "I'll never be able to sell this."1 Containing only two songs and copyrighted in 1990, the cassette was probably a demo and is clearly a low-budget job. The liner notes state that all the songs were written, performed, and produced by a rapper named HAN. I still have no idea who HAN is, but I found the songs interesting because they were unabashedly political, with lines like:

We are people of color
we feel your hate
though we're trying so hard
to assimilate

 

Figure 1. Cassette cover, Here and Now: People of Color, by HAN.

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I played the excerpt and then found myself looking at forty skeptical, embarrassed, and even amused undergraduate faces. It was clear that they thought HAN was pretty bad. Whatever he was up to, it wasn't "good" rap—and for these students, that superseded any other possible response. This was doubly notable because they had already learned the hard way that, in this class, they weren't allowed to dismiss strange musics simply because they didn't like how they sounded. We had spent many sessions talking about ethnocentrism and the cultural construction of aesthetics and had all "agreed" that our ears like certain sounds because we have been taught to like them.

Nonetheless, that tolerance flew out the window when faced with HAN. It hadn't occurred to me that HAN wouldn't be strange enough. My students were accustomed to hearing unfamiliar things in my class as well as familiar things (the blues), but I hadn't considered that they might require HAN to live up to musical standards they had long since internalized. Since then, I have met and talked with and listened to quite a number of Asian American rock and hip-hop groups that most American Generation X listeners would probably find acceptable if not excellent. On the other hand, I wonder if those examples of "good" Asian American music, showcased in a world music class, would make riskier points about ventriloquism and assimilation that would necessarily involve a different kind of discussion, still useful.

The longer I have been an ethnomusicologist, the less interested I have become in whether a piece of music or its performance is "good." Part of my disinterest in valuation is actively resistant: such qualitative judgments are inescapably rooted in modernist Western art ideologies that systematically remove meaning from social context and human interactions and instead invest it in artistic objects. I am continually surprised at how well my students, even those with no background in "the arts," have absorbed these lessons—that is, have learned to dismiss or ridicule on the grounds of quality alone, or are willing to abrogate their own authority to form opinions about a performance because they don't "know" anything about "art." The dismissal of artistic objects on grounds of "quality" alone thus doesn't go very far with me. Even to refer to these matters here forces one into a language filled with scare quotes, as the very vocabulary of the problem is a problem. A large part of any world music class is thus an exercise in providing ways to listen and then to speak about what one has heard in a manner that is informed and located. As poststructuralist theory provides the most trenchant vocabulary for speaking about contingent meanings, students in my world music classes must necessarily absorb theory as they encounter new sounds.

Every ethnomusicologist has experienced that classroom moment when the students simply hate whatever it is you just played. That moment isn't unique to world music classes, either: any teacher of a so-called (Euro-American) music appreciation class knows that the unit on twentieth-century art music is going to be a challenge; any literature or art history professor must at some point defend something that students find uninteresting, bad, or just stupid. Any "good" teacher knows that those moments of resistance are pedagogically filled with the most possibility—the most potential for intellectual breakthrough—and also knows that intellectual coercion is simply not going to work.

 

Pedagogy as cultural work

The traditional definition of pedagogy, or teaching how to teach/teaching how to learn, was focused on methods, i.e., classroom techniques that produced desired results. More recently, the field of education has recognized the implied reflexivity of the term as a kind of meta-theory or meta-teaching. It is important to note that this shift came about through a change in the very conception of what was worth teaching. Indeed, redefining the content of education has consistently led to changes in educational theory; I will return to this in terms of ethnomusicology. The hermeneutic link between knower and known has revamped pedagogy in fundamental ways. As the divide between theory and praxis came under direct scrutiny, pedagogy could no longer be maintained as mere method or technique. As the educators Morton and Zavarzadeh have written (1991: vii),

We understand pedagogy not commonsensically, as classroom practices or instructional methods as such, but as the act of producing and disseminating knowledges in culture, a process of which classroom practices are only one instance. From this position, all discursive practices are pedagogical, in the sense that they propose a theory of reality—a world in which those discourses are "true."

The shift in focus from classroom to social environment and politics as the locus of pedagogy occurred in the 1960s as Third World educators tried to theorize the challenges of deeply entrenched class systems held in place by autocratic political regimes. Working on literacy projects in Brazil from the 1950s on, Paulo Freire developed a revolutionary model of radical social action that he conceived as pedagogical. Author of numerous monographs, his classic study, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was first published in 1970 and remains a primary text for activists committed to changes in social class structures. Freire's thesis was simple but profoundly directed toward social redefinition. First, he proposed that radicalization is always creative and liberating (1993b: 19). As he put it, "...the more radical a person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it" (Ibid., 21). Second, Freire questioned the binary distinction between teachers and students, object and subject, actor and acted-upon. He argued that "Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building" (Ibid., 47). Third, he argued that knowledge and social action are necessarily joined: "Subjectivity and objectivity thus join in a dialectical unity producing knowledge in solidarity with action, and vice versa." (Ibid., 20). Arguing against an "armchair revolution," he proposed that an "authentic praxis" emerges from knowledge and reflection (Ibid., 48)—which led him back to his original thesis that political action must be instigated by and with the oppressed, not for them, and that radicalization is one of the primary results of education. Students and teachers thus "discover themselves" as co-creators (Ibid., 51), and are equally engaged in "the eminently pedagogical character of the revolution" (Ibid., 49).

By way of contrast, consider Erving Goffman's (1981: 165) classic essay, "The Lecture," in which he works out from this somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of lecturing as a socially-constituted performance:

A lecture is an institutionalized extended holding of the floor in which one speaker imparts his views on a subject, these thoughts comprising what can be called his "text." The style is typically serious and slightly impersonal, the controlling intent being to generate calmly considered understanding, not mere entertainment, emotional impact, or immediate action. Constituent statements presumably take their warrant from their role in attesting to the truth, truth appearing as something to be cultivated and developed from a distance, coolly, as an end in itself.

Obviously, the aesthetics and authority of the traditional lecture represent everything that Freire does not: it is institutionalized, impersonal, controlling, contemplative, and actively constructs absolute truth, whereas Freire promotes a ground-level, mutual construction of contingent reality.

The experience of fieldwork is often a formative experiential site for ethnomusicologists' understanding of how learning takes place. That is, after trying so hard to learn a new place, language, music, and values, those who do fieldwork are intimately familiar with matters of learning as translation and as epistemology. The translative effort of "understanding" a different culture is something we learn as young ethnomusicologists, whether prepared for it by our mentors or learned in extremis on the ground, in the field. The anthropologist Peter Harries-Jones has suggested that cultural anthropology is all too comfortably positioned in a circular process of research and teaching that maintains a certain educational ideology hermeneutically linked to colonial and imperialist epistemologies (1985: 226-27). Through the conceptual framework of observation, description, and analysis (borrowed from the natural sciences), "the intimacy of the researcher's dialogue with informants" is transformed "into a different type of interactive relationship through which informants become 'the researched'" (Ibid., 227). Those of us who have engaged with the challenges posed to ethnography in the past fifteen years routinely question how we come to know what we know in the field and how we might represent our understandings—as only that—to our readers. Jeff Todd Titon (1997: 99) recently described poststructuralist approaches as follows:

Poststructuralist thought denies the existence of autonomous selves. The notion of fieldwork as an encounter between self and other is thought to be a delusion, just as the notion of the autonomous self is a delusion, whereas the notion of the other is a fictionalized objectification

Titon worries that the challenge posed by poststructuralism "must be answered if the discipline is to continue "(Ibid., 98), regarding poststructuralism as a threat to ethnomusicology (since fieldwork is central to the discipline's methods). Poststructuralist anthropologists would counter that it simply resituates meaning away from selves to the contingency of relationships. Indeed, work by the anthropologists Clifford, Marcus and Fischer, Ruby, and many others have made this intrinsic to the ethnographic process.2 The entire practice of fieldwork has thus been reformulated—upended, really, from the nineteenth century, positivist model of data collection from which it emerged.

A similar process of questioning could be brought into the classroom, but we have few models for this and fewer still for bringing pedagogical models into our research. Fieldwork and teaching may not be, or need not be, terribly different in their methods and purposes. The model of a centrally located authority, i.e., the teacher or fieldworker, is abandoned for a processual approach that allows for the collaborative generation of contingent knowledge. Difference necessarily arises from these contingencies. Moreover, my research on Asian American musics has led me to question whether merely identifying sites of (musical) difference is enough. As scholars, we must also acknowledge that many musics represent agendas for social change.

The general refusal of the political in ethnomusicological work is related to methodological conservatism. Until the publication of Barz's and Cooley's Shadows in the Field in 1997, writing on ethnomusicological fieldwork and world music education were both focused on methods, i.e., rules and models for what to do in the field and in the classroom. The mutual emphasis on praxis was characterized by a near absence of theory and a large number of assumptions, e.g., you should bring a tape recorder (because you should collect) and elementary school children should learn songs (because singing socializes them). With Shadows in the Field, ethnomusicologists have begun to consider how praxis and theory are interleaved in matters of fieldwork.3

The interface between ethnomusicology and music education remains uneasy. Since 1985, the Society for Ethnomusicology's Education Committee has focused on getting world music materials published that are well-researched and appropriate for elementary and secondary school music education; several publications brought out through the Music Educators National Conference series were organized by members of this committee, and they are certainly the best such textbooks yet. Their purpose and concerns are clear: educational initiatives at the national and state levels have led to bureaucratic implementations of multicultural curricular content, but teachers remain largely untrained in this new content. As Patricia Sheehan Campbell writes (Campbell 1996: 2),

A single musical culture, Western European art music, is perpetuated through most collegiate programs in music. Yet upon graduation and placement in their first teaching positions, music educators are confronted with schoolwide missions to teach subjects globally and from a multicultural perspective. The canon of musical works they learned in their undergraduate studies do not often transfer, even in part, to the expectations of school personnel for music repertoire and programs. Principals, parents' groups, and the public at large who press for more culturally diverse curriculum have teachers of music scrambling for music they never learned and songs they never knew.

Tremendous effort has therefore gone into producing new textbooks with multicultural musical content written by experts,4 but virtually none offer any reflexive consideration of teaching praxis beyond the literal level of the extensive classroom exercises that are always included, telling the teacher "how" to use the material. Campbell, for instance, simply notes that "there are challenges to be faced in the selection, curricular design, and instructional delivery of these musical worlds to students" (Ibid.) The idea of "instructional delivery" is related to certain ideologies of teaching that are rooted in liberal humanism—non-Freireian models of the teaching process—that are decidedly similar to Western tropes of knowledge as a gift.

 

Pedagogical interlude #2

Mere contact between educators, students, and a community (often imagined as people of color) is often valorized as philanthropy. In December 1996, a small choral ensemble from my department performed at a community center in a working class Mexican area of Riverside, California. This neighborhood is populated by the families of laborers from the citrus groves once the foundation of the local economy. The chorus was scheduled to perform a twenty-minute work, Conrad Susa's "Carols & Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest," later that evening as part of their annual on-campus Christmas concert. The music, dance, and theater departments at the University of California, Riverside were given a large grant by a philanthropic foundation to go out and bring their products to "the community," and it was decided by campus organizers that the chorus's performance of the Spanish-language Susa work would make an ideal bridge between the university and Riverside's Mexican and Mexican American community.

The audience at the community center was polite but reserved. Sitting in rows of arranged chairs, some community members listened courteously. Four or five middle-aged women, obviously friends, sat far off in the back of the room and chatted through the entire performance, continuing to use their center as they normally would—as a place for socializing.

The conceptualization of the event was revealing in several ways. First, neither the community center staff nor its patrons were consulted about the contact they wanted to have with UCR's arts programs; instead, they were offered the possibility of a free, packaged event, and naturally they accepted. Second, the student performers had absolutely no contact with audience members or the center staff: they went in, they sang their piece, and they went back to campus. Third, the event was conceived as only an event: rather than emphasize process or use the performance as a vehicle for creating contact between different social spheres, the performance was an uncontextualized moment, treated as a kind of dress rehearsal for the students' evening concert on campus.

Anthropologists arguing for a reconceptualization of their discipline as inherently engaged in advocacy have pointed out anthropologists' tendency to regard their published monographs as gifts, offered to the communities where they did their fieldwork in return for the time and hospitality extended by the members of that community. The fact that such scholarly "gifts" generally have little impact, use, or context for those community members is rarely acknowledged. Anthropologist Peter Harries-Jones points out that the gift "is always in the language and concepts of the dominant culture," and that the rationales reframing the monograph as a kind of largesse are "a mere extension of the principles of positivism and empiricism" (1984: 224).

The philanthropic foundation's patronage of the university choral group and their project of sending the chorus into the community center is, I think, ideologically equivalent: the performance was conceived as a gift, an unthoughtful attempt to bring the beauty and values of Western art music to "the community," with no attempt at consultation with that community and no attempt to address the substantial differences (of class, ethnicity, etc.) that constitute the university and that neighborhood as separate communities.

 

Pedagogy and/as performance

Freire's model for liberation moved out in two directions, both of direct interest to ethnomusicologists. On the one hand, radically revisionist American educators, exemplified by Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren, have extended Freire's model beyond questions of literacy into a sweeping theory for social change. On the other, Augusto Boal, also working in Brazil, translated Freire's ideas into theatrical techniques called the Theater of the Oppressed.

Let me touch briefly on Boal, because his performative techniques for "teaching" agency and radicalization are potentially useful to practitioners and scholars of expressive culture. An innovator of post-Brechtian political theater and practice, Boal directs plays but has founded his career on workshops in which he teaches spectators participatory techniques that encourage active engagement with the political and the ethical. Working with school children, laborers, neighborhoods, and university students, Boal's goals are an extension of Freire's (1990b):

The theatre of the oppressed emphasizes theatre as a language that must be spoken, not a discourse that must be listened to. It also stresses theatre as a process that must be developed, rather than a finished product that must be consumed. The theatre of the oppressed goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of theatre because it asserts the oppressed are the subjects rather than the objects of theatrical activity.

One of Boal's central pedagogical techniques is "invisible theatre," in which "actors" enter public environments such as parks or supermarkets and "stage" ethical dilemmas without alerting passersby that the situations are created. An actor's inability to pay for groceries might encourage "real" customers to take a stand on unemployment, poverty, and social responsibility while waiting in line (1990a). The goal is to displace distinctions between the real and the performed, and to instigate social action through performance—in other words, to operationalize the performative.

Getting from theory to action is the central problem of pedagogy and the driving goal in all Freire-related models. Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren have focused a large body of scholarship on re-theorizing American education, creating a "radical pedagogy" specifically directed toward the American class system and the obstacles it creates for education. They describe critical pedagogy as follows (1991: 157-8):

"Pedagogy" refers to the process by which teachers and students negotiate and produce meaning. This, in turn, takes into consideration how teachers and students are positioned within discursive practices and power/knowledge relations. "Pedagogy" also refers to how we represent ourselves, others, and the communities in which we choose to live. The term "critical pedagogy," by distinction, underscores the partisan nature of learning and struggle; it provides a starting point for linking knowledge to power and a commitment to developing forms of community life that take seriously the struggle for democracy and social justice. Critical pedagogy always presupposes a particular vision of society.

Giroux and McLaren are also concerned with the problem of critique as an end in itself and its implications for systems of reinscription. They argue for an extension of critical pedagogy into a radical pedagogy so that critical discourse "becomes more than a form of cultural dissonance" but rather teaches a pedagogical "language of hope" encouraging action as well as critique. They call for the development of a

theory of experience as a central aspect of radical pedagogy. This also points to the role that educators can play as bearers of dangerous memory. Educators can serve as transformative intellectuals engaged in the task of excavating historical consciousness [ . . . ] [and] can begin to link the notion of historical understanding to strategies of social critique and transformation (Ibid., 180, 181).

But even radical pedagogy is not beyond the reach of progressive questioning. Whether the teacher-student dyad can ever truly allow for student agency is a matter of on-going concern for educators working within the Freireian model because the model itself encourages such critical questions. Literary theorist Chris Amirault (1995: 71) reaches the conclusion that this hope is utopian at best and fantasy at worst. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's and Jean-Claude Passeron's Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1970), he concludes that even empowerment can be dictated and that "good" students simply reproduce their teachers' institutional and social authority:

. . . in any pedagogy, "good students" are those who are able to locate themselves in the pedagogical position articulated by the teacher's pedagogy. For example, within Freire's model of empowering pedagogy, the good student would be an active learner striving toward a critical conception of the world—but as any teacher who has tried out experimental pedagogies knows, for most students this radical pedagogical position is just as much an imposition as any other.

The Freireian pedagogical process thus allows for its own rejection by recognizing that a possible result of its adoption might be the student's rejection of the teacher's model.

The question is, why have the various branches of music education remained so untouched by these commanding models for teaching as social change? The redefinition of scholarly and curricular subject matter created new pedagogical theory: teaching the Brazilian illiterate—the class apparently without any "need" to read—led to Freire's radical theory. Opening the academic canon to ethnic, women's, and queer literature has led to new theoretical models for exegesis, and some might say that those new areas are the most suited for radical pedagogy. Meanwhile, the classroom has changed demographically before our very eyes and the entire theoretical environment, focused on difference, is beginning to make certain assumptions impossible; all this raises the question of when pedagogical tools should change.

Most recently, ethnomusicology has relied on models of multiculturalism for its reflexive framework, but this model too is fraught with problems and misconceptions—problems identified early on by theorists of so-called ethnic literatures. As the canon was questioned and then wedged open, theorists of non-canonic literatures were well aware of problematic justifications for their inclusion. One is the assumption that multiculturalism is only for or about people of color. Literary theorist Joseph Chadwick (1995: 31) writes that multiculturalism as an ideology

represents a productive attempt to find a coherent and nonoppressive way to think about and act on matters of cultural difference. Too often, however, we assume that the term multiculturalism refers fundamentally to issues of ethnic difference. I don't want to deny the importance of those issues, but I do want to insist that they be raised in conjunction with questions of sexual difference as well as of gender and class difference

Chadwick goes on to suggest that "We must take into account gay culture—or better, gay cultures—when we think of the questions summed up by the term multicultural" (Ibid.), and he argues that this then alters the questions posed by multiculturalism as well as the ways it is taught. Other problems arise around conflicting models for difference. The most pervasive form of multicultural content justification has been called "liberal multiculturalism," "conservative or corporate multiculturalism" (McLaren 1994: 47), and even "flabby pluralism" (Giroux and McLaren 1991: 177). This model of multiculturalism is founded on a liberal belief in the ultimate equality of all cultures and usually "locates difference in a primeval past of cultural authenticity" (McLaren 1994: 51). As literary theorist David Palumbo-Liu has pointed out, it is all too easy to "vacate the term 'multicultural' of its progressive intellectual, pedagogical, and social goals" and to "undermine its counterhegemonic potential" (1995: 2, 3). In such models, multiculturalism is based on essentialized differences that are celebrated appreciatively—and this then becomes a means to "manage" the "crisis of race, ethnicity, gender, and labor" that defines the last moments of the twentieth century (Ibid.)

 

Pedagogical interlude #3

While teaching at Pomona College in southern California in 1993, I arranged for Caroline Lyon, a White American performer of South African choral singing, to do a workshop with the Pomona Glee Club. The Glee Club was the best choral group on campus, made up of approximately thirty singers. Their conductor, Jon Bailey, is a gay rights activist and an inspiring role model for many of the music students and especially for gay and lesbian students. Bailey has conducted the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles for years and is an outspoken supporter of multicultural curricular change. He enthusiastically agreed to have Caroline Lyon do a two-hour workshop with the Glee Club and participated in it himself.

Lyon is mostly self-taught in the choral traditions of the Xhosa people, learning pieces from recordings. She teaches the pieces orally to American groups, with no use of notation and little explanation. The music itself is exhilarating, with thick harmonies and exuberant call and response patterns. Talking with the students afterwards, I could see that they drew a vague inspiration from its sound by connecting it to South African protest against apartheid. In that sense, perhaps one could say that through this bodily engagement with the music—that is, by engaging with it at the experiential level of having it resonate through their vocal chords, and by standing in a circle, thus redirecting their focus on each other rather than the conductor, and by creating a collaborative, nonhierarchical choral sound—one might say that these students constructively engaged with cultural difference in an educational way. I do think that happened, but I also regret that that was the extent of the experience. The pieces they learned did not become part of their repertoire; they never practiced them again, and they certainly didn't perform them in concert. In other words, the experience was ephemeral and almost entirely experiential. Nor did the students ever learn anything about why or when Xhosa singers might perform those pieces, or so forth. The event was offered with good intentions, but in the end was little more than multicultural frosting on the sustained work the Glee Club put into their concert repertoire.

 

Managing difference

As a field, ethnomusicology is in a position to fundamentally challenge the very terms allowing difference into the academy. Instead, the language of unanchored relativism helps to maintain an environment in which all musics are created equal and the mere presence of an ethnomusicologist signals multicultural appreciation. This rationale is central to the management of ethnomusicology in music departments dominated by Western art music. When students are provided with apolitical, mediated encounters with Other musics, they learn that that music is essentially like "ours"—it has rhythm, meter, and timbre—and the terms of difference are quite literally contained. Palumbo-Liu provides a critique of "ethnic literature" that could just as well describe the place of world music classes in most music departments (1995: 11):

the reading of ethnic literature can be seen to set a stage for the performance of difference—race relations are made manageable and students are able to "relate" to diverse and highly differentiated experiences by reducing difference to individual encounters via ethnic "texts;" that is, complex differences crosshatched by gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on, are subordinated to the general category of experience of the unfamiliar.

Applying poststructuralist theory to theories of multiculturalism reinvigorates difference as contingent and dialogical. Rather than valorizing the personal at the expense of the political, such theory can help us recognize experience as a site of ideological production, leading to what might be called resistance multiculturalism or critical multiculturalism (McLaren 1994: 52). The anthropologist Dorinne Kondo provides some suggestions for how to act mindfully without being paralyzed by the dilemmas of privilege. She writes (1995) that we must

problematize privilege and exclusion, while realizing their inevitability. [ . . . ] [T]here can be no flawlessly liberatory aesthetic/political intervention. [ . . . ] Knowing that we are always already implicated and complicit, we must nonetheless act.

 

Locating Asian American ethnography

Paulo Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed/hope/liberation and its modification by Henry Giroux and others into a critical pedagogy for the American late twentieth century affords important possibilities for music educators. Considering the history and development of these critiques has led me away from postmodernist theory. Engaging in a project focused on Asian American identity politics has essentially forced my poststructuralist hand; as an Asian American scholar trying to address Asian American subjectivities, I am brought face to face with the problems of representation. All this noise comes to me through a channel paved with negotiated understandings of ethnicity and political hope. I watch, I listen, I ask questions, I make sound recordings and shoot video footage, I arrange for concerts, I am invited along.

 

Pedagogical interlude #4

My Asian American-ness does and doesn't help. My first face-to-face encounter with the Mountain Brothers, an Asian American hip-hop trio in Philadelphia, was awkward. Age and gender differences were more apparent than a shared Asian American identity, even though I had arranged for their performance that day in 1994 at the University of Pennsylvania's Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. As they approached the outdoor stage, I offered to hold Peril's knapsack while he performed, and he looked at me in undisguised surprise. The knapsack was part of his urban street apparel, a sartorial and performative prop that was meant to sit on his back, not mine. He realized that I was clueless and politely declined.

But recounting this anecdote is an old rhetorical trick, straight out of impressionist ethnographic techniques of representation: this moment of admitted naïveté is expected to lead, further down the ethnographic line, to correction and deeper, more "accurate" understanding. Instead, I am almost driven to resist the possibility of understanding. Could I ever know what it's like to be a young Asian American man in a Northeastern city whose immersion in hip-hop culture is central to his sense of self, of purpose? There is only one answer to such questions. Yet the fact remains that the Mountain Brothers and I share social space in particular ways, and my pleasure in writing their ethnography lies precisely in constructing a space that is racialized and politicized. I listen, I record, I talk with them, I write, I show them what I write, they respond, I revise, I show them my revisions, they respond.5 I am not writing them into existence nor do they write themselves, yet something dialogical happens, and I feel certain that this process creates political possibility.

 

Radical inequalities

It has taken an extended research project on Asian American musics and identity politics for me to discover what I now think ought to be true for music educators in general. Difference is central to most environments and we need theory to talk and to teach about it. Radical pedagogy is the most compelling model for how ethnomusicology might connect students and faculty in the academy with the rest of American society. Most importantly, theory is political. As Dorinne Kondo reminds us, "poststructuralism does not mean a simple kind of liberal pluralism, where all strategies then become equal" (1995: 96). The primacy of theory as a tool for social change is also argued forcefully by bell hooks reflecting on her childhood resistance to patriarchal norms (1994: 61):

Living in childhood without a sense of home, I found a place of sanctuary in "theorizing," in making sense out of what was happening. I found a place where I could imagine possible futures, a place where life could be lived differently. This "lived" experience of critical thinking, of reflection and analysis, became a place where I worked at explaining the hurt and making it go away. [ . . . ] Theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary. It fulfills this function only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorizing toward this end.

We thus choose between critical models while enacting respect for our subjects and urging them, urging ourselves, toward change. Not coincidentally, Asian American studies carries with it a built-in awareness of multiplicities and the constructedness of identity; linking communities to the academy has been a central concern in Asian American studies since its emergence in the 1970s. Critical of dominant paradigms of ethnic assimilation, scholars of Asian American studies have been thinking and wielding theory since the beginning. My research in Asian American musics has thus led me in a direction that might seem radical from the standpoint of traditional ethnomusicology because theory and political praxis are joined.

In promoting an ethnomusicology of advocacy, I also enact the lessons of recent anthropology. Revisiting such seminal texts as Marcus and Fischer's Anthropology as Cultural Critique, I find that I am indeed the product of post-1970s social theory—that I have absorbed the imperative toward cultural critique in ways that are tied to our time. In 1986, Marcus and Fischer noted that "anthropology as a form of cultural critique" had not "generated as rich an experimental literature" as might have been expected given the intense reflexive scrutiny of that period (1986: 4). As I consider my own drive toward a scholarship of activism and advocacy, I see its historicity—that I am acting out Marcus and Fischer's call for an anthropology that takes the lessons of the field and redirects them toward "full-scale projects of cultural critique at home" (Ibid.) Our reflexive consideration of Elsewheres has enabled the integration of purpose and practice urged by Marcus and Fischer. In other words, I arrive at a particular critique for real historical reasons, and this in turn leads me to a consideration of action—of how we might up-end distinctions between analysis and action, description and theory. If we are able to help our students see that they are producers as well as consumers, that they are implicated as well as implicating, then we will have mediated the compromised circumstances of our anti-canonic place in academe as ethnomusicologists.

 

Pedagogical interlude #5: guns and R-words

Korean American dancer/choreographer Peggy Choy visited the Philadelphia area in 1994, and I invited her to give a talk in the music department at the University of Pennsylvania about her work. Choy gave her presentation the same title as the performance piece she was about to do nearby at Swarthmore College, "Seung Hwa: Race/Rape/Rage/Revolution," an extended solo dance work about Korean and Korean American women's experience. I did the usual publicity for the talk, posting notices around campus and distributing a flyer I made up with a photograph of Choy, her presentation title, and some basic information about her work [see Figure 2].

 

Figure 2. Flyer for Peggy Choy's presentation at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Choy's presentation was sparsely attended. Perhaps ten students and faculty members were present: an English professor, a Korean and a Korean American graduate student in the music department, two Asian American undergraduates, a homeless woman who frequently attended public talks around the Penn campus, etc. Fred Ho, a Chinese American musician in Choy's production, came along too. The talk was held in a slightly dingy third-floor classroom in the music department, replete with the roar of city buses making their way down 34th Street just outside the windows.

Choy was about ten minutes into her talk when there was a knock on the classroom door. I got up and opened it, and found myself looking up at two uniformed policemen, who (given my surprise) seemed enormously tall and imposing. One was holding a copy of my flyer announcing Choy's talk. "Is this the talk about the dance?" he asked. I said yes and stayed where I was in the classroom door, thinking there must be a problem. Choy had stopped talking and everyone in the classroom was watching and listening. "We're just here to listen," the policeman said, and I stood aside in some confusion as they made a grand entrance, guns and billy clubs dangling from their belts, and then made their way clumsily to the back row of desks.

Choy went on with her talk, but I could tell that she was keenly aware of the new audience members. I certainly was: I had never seen armed policemen at a Penn intellectual gathering, let alone in my own classroom. Afterwards, the two men quietly got up and left without saying anything. As I drove Choy and Fred Ho back to Swarthmore for a rehearsal, we tried to figure out what had happened. Why were the policemen present? Had the apparently inflammatory title of Choy's presentation drawn the eye of campus security? If so, which R-word rang their warning bells? Did they routinely attend campus presentations that sounded as if they might cause . . . trouble? If so, who made such decisions? Were there any campus regulations about the presence of armed officers in classrooms?

Over the next few days, I placed a number of calls to the campus security office asking (some of) these questions, but quickly ran into a dead end. At one point, a staff sergeant visited me in my office to answer my questions. On the face of it, the officer was obliging and responsive, but he repeatedly denied that his department had any official interest in Choy's presentation. No officers had been assigned to her talk. I didn't have the names or badge numbers of the two men, and they weren't familiar to him or to any of the officers with whom I spoke. Several officers suggested that the men might have been with the Philadelphia Police Department as their uniforms and armament were nearly identical to those worn by campus security. It was suggested that the two men, whoever they were, had simply attended out of interest—perhaps on their lunch hour.

My department chairperson agreed to send a letter of complaint to the campus security office—but asked me to draft it for him. He clearly thought I was overreacting if not a bit paranoid, but he was willing to oblige me. I wrote the letter, he signed it, and he received a polite letter in return repeating that the office couldn't take responsibility for the armed officers' presence, but that my discomfort was duly noted.

Unanswered questions. How often are Asian American performers identified as dangerous? What tipped the bucket: the rage, the call for revolution, a person of color uttering those words? I revisit an unsatisfied anger when I remember opening the classroom door and letting in the policemen. A wasted pedagogical moment, to be sure. What might we have said, what might we have done? As artists and educators and students, we could have addressed the armed surveillance in our midst, right then, directly; we could have treated it as invisible theater—as a moment when community, performance, political encounter, and pedagogy came together.

 

Locating the field/the classroom

As Shadows in the Field makes clear, ethnomusicologists have begun to rethink fieldwork and "the field". The asymmetries between fieldworker and informant have become a source of discomfort, regarded as something that must be renegotiated and redefined. The implied power dynamics of fieldwork and indeed ethnography generally are being acknowledged in much the same way that critical and radical pedagogy seek to redefine the learning process. Timothy Cooley distinguishes between postmodern and post-postmodern ethnomusicology in his introduction to Shadows in the Field (1997: 4), describing postmodern ethnomusicology as a shift in focus "from representation (text) toward experience (fieldwork broadly defined)." The post-postmodern "atmosphere" that now surrounds ethnomusicology, he writes, is an experimental phase in which no single approach dominates but rather dialogical and reflexive postmodern perspectives guide ethnomusicologists as they question their own practices (1997: 11). Sadly, all of Cooley's musings are focused on the ethnomusicologist as s/he tries to practice "fieldwork that is not tinged with exploitation" and searches for something "to offer humanity" (Ibid.); his own questions imply that the focus should no longer be on the fieldworker/ethnographer but on the relationships and possibilities that arise from encounter—in short, on process.

Ethnomusicologists are in a position to bring the now-problematized process of fieldwork into their pedagogy. Just as fieldwork can no longer be focused on data collection, pedagogy can no longer be content-driven. Pedagogy might be conceived of as fieldwork in all its problematized, poststructural reality. Neither "the field" nor "the classroom" can be located as places that allow certain activities only.

I have tried to outline a series of convergences that could transform our fields, albeit from the viewpoint of an ethnomusicologist. In the new ethnomusicology, both field research and pedagogy are collaborative processes that necessitate thoughtful interaction. The "classroom" (wherever that may be) is the field and the field the classroom; teacher and student are joined in new ways. Locating authority in the field or in the pedagogical moment becomes a gesture from older ethnographic practices: authority is diffuse, fleeting, fluid, no longer determined by older norms of power. As a cultural worker, one seeks on-going, open-ended understandings rather than tidily closed explanations. The pedagogy of the oppressed becomes a pedagogy of possibility, and as possibility gives way to critical consciousness, and as social, cultural, and political critique becomes part of multicultural education, and as students become teachers become agents become actors in a circle of cultural work, the divides between scholarship, social transformation, and performance become less meaningful, less clear. To have to argue for the political nature of music or education would then become unnecessary. The field is Here, the field is Now.



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Acknowledgments

This essay was presented at the 41st Annual Meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Toronto in 1996 and in the colloquium series of the Department of Music, University of Colorado, Boulder, December 1996. I would like to thank colleagues and audience members at both events for their questions and comments. My colleagues in the University of California, Riverside's Center for Asia Pacific AmericaTraise Yamamoto, Piya Chatterjee, Edward Chang, and Rodney OgawaTong Soon Lee, Jeff Tobin, Don Brenneis, Andrew Weintraub, and (as always) René T.A. Lysloff made thoughtful suggestions that added much.

 

 


1Indeed, he still had copies of it in 1998.

2I am thinking of such studies as George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Jay Ruby, ed., A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982); James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1986); Roger Sanjek, ed., Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990); and James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1988).

3See Wong 1998 for a review of Shadows in the Field.

4Accurate world music textbooks with depth and detail have been very slow to appear for both K-12 and secondary education. Over the years, the minutes from various SEM committee meetings are dotted with members' and officers' calls for better world music teaching materials.

5See Wong 1997 for an example.

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