Interculturalism, Interculturaldad, and Music Education

University of Toronto Scarborough (Canada)

Toronto District School Board (Canada)

February 2024

Published in Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 23 (1): 102–23. [pdf]

Abstract: Diversity has long been an area of interest for music education. Interculturalism, with its emphasis on cultural competence, dialogue, and humility, has emerged as a popular concept for the negotiation of difference in music education. Based on an examination of the international non-governmental organization-sponsored intercultural music exchange program, Ethno World, the authors ask, “In what ways can the intercultural activities of the Ethno World program be understood in light of Global North and South experiences, and what implications might these activities hold for music education?” Deploying the postcolonial framework of coloniality and the Central-South American concept of interculturalidad, the authors argue that intercultural efforts in music education must be careful not to inadvertently deepen Global North-South divisions by treating interculturalism as a problem of knowledge, thereby overlooking or bracketing out colonial histories that benefit those in the Global North at the expense of those in the Global South.

Keywords: Coloniality, cultural competence, diversity, interculturalidad, interculturalism, non-governmental organizations, NGO

Ever since McLuhan’s (1964) imagined “global village” thrust the notion of globalization onto the world stage, the problems of diversity—a consequence of globalization—have intensified; “superdiversity” (Vertovec 2007) has now taken root as “a key socio-political challenge polarising contemporary multicultural societies everywhere” (Elias and Mansouri 2020, 490). Many homogeneous ethnic-cultural nation states have been replaced by multi-cultural/multi-ethnic ones, forcing governments around the globe to respond with forms of “diversity management” (Council of Europe 2008). This managerial approach to diversity has found its way into education—and by extension, music education—due to the ways education participates in constructing cultural knowledge and values.

Diversity has been an area of interest for music education for several decades (e.g., Campbell 2003, 2005, 2018; Schippers 2010; Volk 1998). In a comprehensive summary of their project, “Global Visions Through Mobilizing Networks—Co-Developing Intercultural Music Teacher Education in Finland, Israel and Nepal,”[1] Westerlund and associates (2022) identify four categories of diversity approaches found in music education discourses: (1) multicultural music education as a response to the dominance of Western classical music traditions; (2) recognition through culturally responsive teaching; (3) developing intercultural sensitivity to facilitate integration; and (4) the cultural diversity continuum in music teacher education. Each of these categories of discourse has arisen out of and responded to various ways of considering and problematizing diversity.

Arguably, the longest-standing approach in music education has been driven by an interest in multiculturalism/world music (e.g., Anderson and Campbell 2010; Campbell 2004; Roberts and Campbell 2015; Volk 1998). With respect to preservice music education programs, Westerlund, Karlsen, and Partti (2020a) suggest that, historically, a single course in multicultural music-education or world-music would often suffice to tick the diversity box. As Westerlund and Karlsen (2017) argue, however, multicultural and world music approaches as found in preservice music education programs often “obscure forms of inequality and injustice that fall outside of its conceptual frames” (80). They argue instead for an intercultural approach, something they suggest allows for the “development of a wider ethical reflexivity and critical awareness” of diversity (100).

In this paper, we focus on how the European framing of interculturalism—and by extension its potential utilization by the field of music education—may reflect and reify Global North worldviews and material realities in ways that overlook and ignore colonial histories of the Global South. Based on data collected on Ethno World, an international NGO-sponsored intercultural music exchange program, we interrogate Global North-South issues in order to inform future intercultural efforts in music education.


Interculturalism in Education

In their comprehensive systematic literature review on interculturalism, Elias and Mansouri (2020) provide a background on the historical emergence of interculturalism, including its conceptual similarities and dissimilarities to multiculturalism (see also Meer, Modood, and Zapata-Barrero 2016). Very briefly (and reductively), multiculturalism typically focuses on accommodating cultural rights, especially for migrant/immigrant groups. Interculturalism, by contrast, emphasizes contact: “intergroup interaction, exchange and dialogue” aimed at bridging differences and achieving social cohesion (Elias and Mansouri 2020, 491).[2] Whereas interculturalism in sociological and political studies tends to focus governance issues, interculturalism in education tends to focus on intercultural skills, i.e. intercultural competence, sensitivity, dialogue, humility, etc.

Dervin and Simpson (2021) suggest that, due in part to mass migration to the Western world, education in the West has experienced an “intercultural revolution” that has led to the “internationalization” of higher education (1). Many writers point to the 2008 Council of Europe “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue” (Council of Europe 2008) as the statement catalyzing interculturality becoming a “global industry” (Dervin and Simpson 2021, 1). Intercultural concerns in education have been raised for decades, however. Deardorff (2004), for example, noted how a 2000 report by the American Council on Education warned that the United States would fall behind other nations if higher education did not do more to ensure intercultural competence so that American students were “global citizens.”

The idea of ensuring intercultural competence in education plays into what Biesta (2023) describes as the “pedagogy of empowerment”—“the common pedagogical trope” of education as preparation: for work, life, more education, citizenship, eternity (239). Indeed, Kertz-Welzel (2021) suggests that the internationalization of music education should be driven, at least in part, by preparation concerns: “[internationalization] is supposed to aim toward fostering developing intercultural competencies and help preparing students for life and work in a global world” (193). Intercultural empowerment efforts have been described variously as intercultural competence, intercultural sensitivity, and intercultural dialogue, among other terms.

An oft-cited source on intercultural competence is Deardorff (2006), who suggests that competence comprises five interrelated elements: attitudes, knowledge, skills, internal outcomes (e.g. adaptability, flexibility), and external outcomes (behaviour, communication). Although framed as more than just “knowledge,” competence is clearly an epistemological matter, as attitudes, internal outcomes, and external outcomes are all a manifestation of the belief that one can sufficiently know the Other. This can be especially problematic when the ability to “know” is assumed regardless of contact. As Dolloff (2020) points out in her appeal to cultural humility and the erased histories of Indigenous peoples, a focus on cultural competence typically fails to address those who are not in the room. The idea that one can “develop” competence (sensitivity, dialogue, and even humility), then, comes into question—especially when there is often little agreement on what constitutes competence (Barrett 2013).

None of this is to suggest that efforts aimed at improving intercultural competence and sensitivity are misguided. Recent efforts in preservice music teacher development include such things as outreach projects, intercultural immersion, cross-cultural collaboration, service learning, outbound mobility programs, and intercultural outreach projects (see Westerlund, Kallio, and Karlsen 2022). These can provide valuable learning for students, especially in cases where students learn, as Westerlund, Kallio and Karlsen (2022) put it, “not only about but also from and with others in unfamiliar cultural settings” (383, see also Bartleet et al. 2020).

In their examination of diversity discourses in music education, Kallio and associates (2021) point out that “diversity” is a label that supersedes its application to individuals, sounds, or repertoires. They argue for greater attention to the politics of diversity—“the everyday processes by which we all exercise agency, negotiate power and identity, and assign meaning to difference” (2). The motives of those urging greater attention to intercultural diversity issues range from the altruistic (e.g., common humanity, global peace, and harmony) to the instrumental (human capital development in service of global superiority). What is sometimes overlooked in internationalization and interculturality discussions, however, is how they reflect specific worldviews and histories. Barrett (2013) notes, for example, how intercultural models, developed almost exclusively in western European and North American societies, have not been empirically tested and likely suffer from a lack of cross-cultural generalizability. Along similar lines, Kertz-Weltzel (2021), drawing on Aw (2017), points out that “internationalization is not a neutral term but is rather connected to specific cultures and knowledges” (193). Aw (2017) writes about how internationalization inevitably privileges “a form of knowledge originating from the North and flowing to the South.… Most regions choose to engage Europe as a principal partner. However, rarely are such partnerships reciprocal and/or balanced” (xxii).

Some of the categories of diversity approaches in music education summarized by Westerlund and associates (2022), such as interest in multiculturalism and cultural diversity in music education, have been around for decades (see Schippers and Cain 2010). Attention to internationalization (Kertz-Welzel 2018) and interculturalism (Westerlund, Karlsen, and Partti 2020b) is more recent and, arguably, driven by Western/Global North “contact” concerns (i.e., superdiversity). The activities of international music non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) rarely factor into disciplinary discussions in music education, however, despite their impact on a growing number of young people.


Background and Context

JM International (JMI, formerly Jeunesses Musicales International) claims to be the world’s largest youth music non-governmental organization. Founded in Belgium in 1945, JMI “is a global NGO that provides opportunities for young people and children to develop through music across all boundaries” (JM International n.d.a)[3] For many years, art music was the basis for JMI activities. The Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, founded in 1949, and the World Youth Choir, founded in 1989, have been signature programs. In 1990, however, JMI (n.d.b) expanded its programming with “Ethno,” a “program for folk, world and traditional music” that consists of a series of summer music camps, usually seven to fourteen days in length, for participants ages thirteen to thirty. JMI’s (n.d.b) stated mission for the Ethno World program—to “revive and keep alive global cultural heritage amongst youth”—situates the program’s goals firmly within the context of globalization and associated fears about cultural loss (e.g., “greyout,” UNESCO and intangible cultural heritage).

At time of writing, Ethno camps occur in approximately forty countries on six continents. According to JMI’s (n.d.b.) website, the Ethno program, operating under the organization, “Ethno World” offers “intercultural learning through peer education in traditional music.” The premise of these camps is that participants, usually twenty to one hundred per camp, bring a piece of “traditional” music—generally understood as synonymous with folk music—from their country of origin to be taught to and shared with other attendees, which is then subsequently transformed into a kind of “world music” arrangement in preparation for a culminating performance. The current version of the Ethno World website reads: “At the core of the Ethno is its democratic, peer to peer learning approach whereby young people teach each other the music from their countries and cultures.… It is a non-formal pedagogy that has been refined over the past 33 years, embracing the principles of intercultural dialogue and understanding” (JM International 2022).

This paper is the result of a discussion between the two authors, one a music education professor with life experiences exclusively in the Global North, the other a graduate student (at the time) studying in the Global North but who grew up in the Global South. Their experiences and positionalities were integral in informing their critique. The two authors were part of a project commissioned by JMI to conduct independent research on the Ethno World program. Data considered by the authors included field notes from author one’s attendance at Ethno France in 2020, a post-hoc analysis of 114 interviews with attendees, music facilitators, and organizers conducted by the entire Ethno World research team, 2019–2020, and fourteen additional online interviews (six conducted by the authors) with Ethno World organizers and music facilitators in spring, 2021 that investigated questions of “arts and culture” at Ethno World camps. It should be noted that only seventeen of the original 114 interviews conducted in 2019–2020 were with people from the Global South. However, the subsequent fourteen interviews from 2021 were divided half and half between Global North and South, and included four interviews conducted in Spanish by the second author.

Drawing on distinctions between Ethno World experiences in the Global North and those in the Global South, we deploy postcolonial theory to examine and interrogate the frames of reference at Ethno camps that shape music learning and teaching practices oriented to develop global “intercultural understanding.” We ask: “In what ways can the intercultural activities of the Ethno World program be understood in light of Global North and South experiences, and what implications might these activities hold for music education?”[4] Problematizing Ethno World from a Global North-South division perspective allows us to not only examine how this particular intercultural music exchange program locates itself as a global educational program situated within economic disparities, but to explore the ways in which music learning and teaching so often reproduces what is hidden from its reflection: the colonial/imperialist systemic conditions that sustain and reproduce the conditions upon which the Global North and Global South have been historically constructed.


Colonialism and Coloniality

The imaginary of a “borderless world” (Ōmae 1990) has become a salient theme in scholarly globalization literature, with academic commentators questioning the paradigm of the nation-state defined by geographic location and coincident with cultural practices (Appadurai 1990). The suffix ‘less’ in the word borderless invokes the phenomenon of deterritorialization, whereby the breakdown of place-based stability of culture accelerated. As Appadurai (1990) explains, the concept of the borderless world comes to describe a transformational process in which “the disjunctive and unstable interplay of commerce, media, national policies and consumer fantasies” modify ethnicity and culture, previously conserved in some sort of “territorial cloud.” In a borderless world, ethnicity and culture become a global force “slipping in and through the cracks between states and borders” (306).

Living in times where cultures cannot be neatly hived off from each other, where “intermixture, celebrating the cross-over, the hybrid, the potpourri“ (Anderson 1991, 93) have become commonplace, and where social relations and processes go beyond borders, interculturalism has emerged as an educational approach “whose global relevance reveals itself in public and social policy, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist intervention, and international security” (Aman 2017, 1). The relevance of interculturality in these fields would explain in part its centrality within the landscape of international NGOs such as JMI. The cross-cultural and bridging dimension of interculturality “appears to be based on the view that we have obligations to others, a certain responsibility that stretches beyond those with whom we share the formal ties of a common passport, religious affiliation or citizenship” (Aman 2017, 2). Central to our discussion, however, is that interculturality tends to become an instrument of education, as if the cross-cultural and bridging dimensions of interculturality are enacted by knowing. This point will be further discussed in the section, Interculturality and Interculturalidad.

In order to describe how knowledge production has been situated within the North-South divide, we draw on theoretical elaborations and insights around relations of power in the terrain of knowledge production articulated by the Modernity/Coloniality Group (Dussel 1993; Mignolo 2005; Quijano 2000). One of the keys ideas of the group is that Europe, by proclaiming itself custodian and creator of Modernity and the “centre” of a World History that it inaugurates, is “constituted in a dialectical relation with a non-European alterity that is its ultimate content” (Dussel 1993, 65). That is, the periphery (i.e., the South), surrounding this centre, is a result of its self-definition. It is precisely from this background that “psychic, linguistic, epistemological, religious, military and economic interactions between the West and the non-West [are inseparable from] Europe’s colonialist projects” (Dussel 1993, 66). The privileging of universalism-as-European has arisen due to Europe’s dominant position in the world, but, as Aman (2014) has argued, there are “severe difficulties” in trying to think beyond a European framework (91).

One of our arguments is that interculturalism inevitably occludes North-South differences that benefit the former at the expense of the latter. We are not the first in music education to consider such matters. For example, volume 18, issue 3 of Action, Criticism and Theory for Music Education (ACT), guest edited by Guillermo Rosabal-Coto, focuses on North-South border perspectives, specifically the issue of decolonization. Of particular note here, at least for those of us located in places where the discourse tends to centre on colonialism, is the related but distinct term coloniality. A search of the Action, Criticism and Theory for Music Education website returns ten hits for the term “coloniality”—four of which are, unsurprisingly, found in the aforementioned special ACT issue, although the term first appeared in a 2014 article by Rosabal-Coto.

Coloniality, as developed by the Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano (2000) and discussed by the Puerto Rican sociologist Ramon Grosfoguel (2002), refers to “the continuity of colonial forms of domination after the end of colonial administration” (Grosfoguel 2002, 207). Coloniality refers to a “logic of domination” (Mignolo 2005, 5) reflected through a variety of processes including “division of labor, the global racial/ethnic hierarchy, and the hegemonic Eurocentric epistemologies in the modern/colonial world” (Grosfoguel 2002, 207). The basic premise is that, although colonial administrations do not appear to be active anymore, the majority of the population [the global South] still live “under crude European-Euro-American exploitation and domination” (207). As a manifestation of power, coloniality structures the globe along axis such as North and South, following a logic according to which the Global North articulates how labor is divided, what strategies subaltern groups engage with, and how Third World migrants are inscribed “in the racial/ethnic hierarchy of metropolitan global cities” (207). Understanding how and why coloniality originated as a narrative of the West and a hegemonic force dividing the world along lines of race, class, gender and religion goes beyond the bounds of this article. Our aim is to use coloniality as a framework to understand how the Global North-South divide, following a colonial epistemological logic to create division, plays out in the creation of the frames of reference that shape music learning and teaching practices oriented to develop global “intercultural understanding” within Ethno World.

In his analysis of how knowledge production situates or geopolitically locates itself in the North-South divide, Grosfoguel (2002) argues that “the colonial difference offers a unique opportunity to reinterpret the modern world” (204). His argument is based on the acknowledgement of the “postcolonial conditions” of “crude exploitation,” in which “independent republics in the periphery live” (Grosfoguel 2002, 204). In fact, today’s core zones of the capitalist world-economy overlap with “predominantly White/ European/ Euro-American societies such as western Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States, while peripheral zones overlap with previously colonized non-European people” (Grosfoguel 2002, 206).


Interculturality and Interculturalidad 

One of the challenges in trying to make sense of the activities of Ethno World is the blurring of terms such as intercultural exchange, intercultural learning, intercultural understanding, interculturalism, interculturality, and so on. While there may be pragmatic utility in the avoidance of definitions, our data and analysis suggest that the language and practices of Ethno World around the issue of interculturalism belie a Western conception, one that fails to acknowledge the colonial histories of the nations that purportedly constitute the borderless world. As Aman (2017) points out, “whenever interculturality is framed in terms of cultural differences, its language inescapably reproduces the colonial difference” (82). In other words, when framed in terms of cultural difference, interculturality fails to acknowledge the colonial past upon which cultural differences have been historically constructed from dominant forms of European modernity along lines of race, religion, gender, and class.

As a related but distinct concept, Aman (2017) offers the South American term interculturalidad, which pushes back on the Eurocentrism of interculturality. For Aman, the problem of interculturalism is how UNESCO and the European Union have turned it into a problem of knowledge. That is, interculturalism assumes that if people have enough contact with the other—i.e. can learn enough (“cultural competence”)—then peace and harmony will be achieved. As Aman (2017) points out, and as our research affirmed, intercultural education inevitably produces “Global Westerners, local others” (57). This is hardly surprising, since English has become the lingua franca of interculturalism as an academic discourse. As Aman points out, the concept of interculturalism has been developed by authors who only write in English (6). Pushing back on the frame of interculturalism as a frame premised on a meeting between equals, Aman argues that intercultural encounters should highlight “the possibility of other ways of thinking about interculturality depending on where, by whom and in what language it is being articulated” (4). Interculturalidad thus sets apart from interculturality by signaling “the historical and socio-political conditions” under which Indigenous people’s epistemologies in Latin America have been represented as inferior by Europeans (14).

Aman (2017) writes, “[W]henever the colonial difference is not kept in view, it is inescapably reproduced in the sphere of knowledge production” (47). Articulated as a form of knowledge, interculturalism is not immune to the dialectical power relations inscribed by the North-South divide. Following Aman, we argue that the Westernized framework of understanding of interculturalism enacted by JMI not only reflects a limited consideration of the diversity of ways of knowing and being in the world, but also reproduces how “Western domination has profoundly marginalised knowledges and wisdom in existence elsewhere” (4). Homogenization responds to processes of division that emerge from, or are a result of, imperial/colonial power differentials formed by centuries of European colonial expansion. According to Grosfoguel (2002), colonial difference “is always constitutive of processes of knowledge production” (209). Colonial difference thus brings a particular approach to the production of knowledge in which it suggests there is no “unpositioned, unlocated, neutral, and universalistic” knowledge (209).

By invoking the North-South division, we aim to highlight possibilities for how intercultural goals and aspirations are articulated. The rhetoric enclosing interculturality articulated by global organizations is fundamentally based on domination and marginalization of other-than-European ways of knowing (Aman 2017). Given that, by definition, interculturality is based on “the establishment of difference as a precondition to creating connections to otherness” (Aman 2015, 1), looking at how interculturality is conceptualized from a different geopolitic allows us to interrogate how the us and them is constructed in an intercultural dialogue. By signaling colonial difference, interculturalidad unveils the historical geopolitical contexts from which the concept and “assumed universality” of interculturality are articulated (Aman 2017, 64).

Although space does not permit a thorough explanation, territoriality factors strongly in Aman’s theorization. Whereas interculturality draws on universalizing logics that see population and culture defined according to absolute geopolitical boundaries, interculturalidad reflects what Aman calls “the indispensable interrelation of ways of life and territory” (Aman 2017, 71)—that is, the intersubjective relationship between human and nature. Although Aman specifically references Indigenous movements in Central and South America, we think interculturalidad is evident in the ideas expressed by Ethno attendees from the Global South. While our utilization does not do complete justice to Aman’s articulation, interculturalidad serves us to illustrate how subject positionality, the loci of enunciation, and the “geopolitics of knowledge” (Grosfoguel 2002, 209) are reflected in how the Ethno World program sustains and reproduces the conditions upon which the Global North and Global South have been historically constructed. Notions of cultural diversity promoted by supranational bodies such as JMI imply an epistemological premise that assumes “universally shared values” (UNESCO 2006, 43). By contrast, interculturalidad exposes Western epistemology and colonial power.


Participant Voices

Ethno is a window on the world with the same language, music. [Attendees] have the music to communicate. (Ethno organizer)

Ethno is an amazing social experience. Of course, it is because we’re using music to cross to, to take down barriers between cultures where, because we’re here focused on the music, we can communicate, we can relate to each other much better, even though we’re from completely different cultures. (Ethno artistic leader) At Ethno camps, music is considered a universal language. It is viewed by participants as a medium and a conduit, serving as the connector that elides difference. As one artistic leader stated:[5] “I play the role of translator.… [T]he most important task of the leader is to translate, not always like spoken language, but the music traditions, because we are talking about musicians that don’t belong to the Western European traditions. So you have to translate with their traditions to the way of learning that the rest of you are used to” (Artistic Leader A). The belief that musical traditions can be translated, in this case from non-Western to Western, is consistent with the UNESCO and European version of interculturalism and intercultural competence. Sufficient knowledge ensures that nothing is lost in translation. This view was prevalent throughout the research interviews, where Ethno attendance was celebrated as a “gateway” into the cultures of others: “If you’re interested in the culture, you have the people to ask it, because usually you go to the Internet to look up something, but Internet is not like a real person from that country. And I think Ethno is the best Google in a way” (Organizer B).

Aman’s critique of “Global Westerners, local others” rang true in the interviews. There were clear differences in the perspectives of those from the Global North and those from the Global South. The former tended to emphasize the liberatory and utopian aspects of Ethno, as if the world was a level playing field and that all attendees shared similar backgrounds and agency. Attendee B (Global North), for example, explained the egalitarian spirit of reciprocity embedded in the peer-to-peer learning approach: “Everybody’s bringing some little piece from their context or a culture or place where they feel connected, and then they will share it with others and others will take it and then they will, on their turn, they will give something and take something.” Artistic Leader C (Global North), framed this in terms of Ethno as “helping with this globalization.” They[6] went on to say, “We belong together as human beings. All people need to work together. It is very clear that Ethno has shown that it is possible…. We want to cooperate.”

Many of those from the Global South tended to express the value of Ethno differently. This took several forms. Organizer C, for example, spoke about the colonial legacies in New Zealand and the tensions between the white Anglo-American folk scene and the cultural practices of the Maori. Organizer D, from the Australasian region, highlighted the lack of structures in formal education in their country, and how this put local attendees at a disadvantage when they are expected to operate within Ethno’s typical methods of arranging:

Collaborations [common in Ethno] are quite difficult.… [T]he creativity is quite limited. We do not have any music syllabus in our education system, we don’t have Performing Arts in our education system, we just don’t have them. And so they really haven’t been taught to be as creative enough to come up with their own stuff—to bring their traditional songs and rearrange them or collaborate with another artist. It’s very limited.

For some participants from the Global South, however, Ethno represented an opportunity to overcome stereotypes and feelings of being second-class. As an organizer from Chile explained, “I don’t have any inferiority complex for being Chilean. Like I never feel like, ‘Oh, I’m the Chilean here, so….’ I left that behind many years ago. I think Ethno helped me a lot with that, and I feel that I can literally stand on any stage in the world without feeling less” (Organizer E). From a North-South perspective, the reference to an inferiority complex can be understood as a reflection or a symptom of a colonial difference whereby being from a Global South country is equated with lack or inferiority. Although the participant did not express the specifics, their reference to inferiority exposes how colonized populations in different corners of the world have been disqualified from intellectual labour and cultural production.

The sense of somehow being different was common to many interviewees from the Global South, although this difference was often claimed as a form of insight necessary for survival, as one organizer made clear: “The countries of the southern hemisphere are countries that are much clearer about how Ethno works [in the northern hemisphere] and how it works here, and we have to adapt. That is the bad luck of being here. We had to adapt; we had to speak English” (Organizer F). Consistent with many international organizations, English is the operational language at Ethno camps. This is understandable on a functional level, as English has become the most common second language throughout the world. The adaptation of participants from the Global South goes beyond the English language requirement, however. It also requires them to buy into the nation-state logic whereby culture is defined by geopolitical boundaries that ignore colonial histories. This was evident and consistent throughout the data we analysed: as part of Ethno World practices, attendees and their repertoires are explicitly defined by their countries of origin. When rehearsing, for example, artistic leaders will call the next tune as “Chile,” not by the name of the song or by the name of the participant.

Many participants did not recognize the tension between invoking a nation-state identity on the one hand while simultaneously idealizing a borderless world on the other. Organizer F, for example, tried to illustrate how the cueca—a dance and musical genre practiced under more or less different names in many regions from Central and South America—functions as a manifestation of a practice that historically has been used to instill and impose a uniform musical expression. Organizer F explained how “the traditionalist, patriotic cueca played by bands in traditional festivals displayed as a unique rhythm from Arica to Punta Arenas is not rooted.” In other words, the patriotic cueca is a colonial construction.

The cueca was declared as a traditional dance during dictatorship times […] During the dictatorship, the cueca was declared a traditional dance in order to make recognizable something that all Chileans would identify with. But the only thing they did was that people did not identify with the cueca.

Organizer F also drew attention to how cultural practices of today’s South American countries pre-date their colonial histories: “Latin American countries don’t have more than 250 years of history as nations, but the history of the peoples that inhabited those spaces, the flavors—which are very connected to what we play—colors and all this sensory part that I was talking about is much older, much older.” Ironically, however, Organizer F went on to claim that “people in Ethno are trying to rescue, promote and share” musical culture not tied to the nation-state, arguing that “patriotism does not go with Ethnos”:

People who take part in Ethno […] are people not so patriotic, so to speak, but are attached to the roots, which is different. It is different to honor the republican homeland—that is, the country you belong to—than to honor the sounds, flavors, textures, and colours typical of a territorial space people inhabited a really long time ago.

To an extent, Organizer F was quite correct: Ethno attendees typically express global, not nationalist views. However, the explanation of the difference between the “republic”—i.e., the nation-state that defines one’s citizenship—and the cultural practices of historic “territories” does not account for the fact that national identities, not colonial histories, are overtly reinforced at Ethno camps. In other words, Organizer F attempted to glorify the espoused intercultural idealism of the Ethno World program without recognizing how the enacted practices contradict the idealism and perpetuate views of European interculturalism rather than Central and South American interculturalidad.

As evident in the analysis of the original 114 interviews, there were clear differences in the motivations for Ethno attendance. Although there were attendees from the Global North who regarded Ethno as a form of career development in music, the majority attended as a form of personal development; attending Ethno camps was motivated by a desire for intercultural exchange experiences. Many of those from the Global South, however, were motivated by pragmatic concerns: musical learning and the possibilities of career advancement (“it is an extremely important event in your career”).



Westerlund and Karlsen (2020) claim that many music educators may consider themselves “musically omnivorous and multicultural” but still “prefer a politically and socially neutral stance for transmitting musical content” (215–16). Interculturalism, they argue, may provide an important “catalyzing conceptual tool” (216) to help challenge assumed neutrality. Like all conceptual tools, however, interculturalism can “become one-sided and result in professional blindspots” (Westerlund and Karlsen 2020, 217–218). The effect of this educational approach positions interculturality (and internationalization) as a problem of knowledge (Aman 2017), an orienting frame that creates a hierarchy in the production of knowledge and culture.

Interculturality/interculturalism has emerged as an educational approach in response to the cultural and social challenges that globalization and superdiversity have imposed on societies around the globe. In considering interculturality as a problem of knowledge, we are offered the opportunity to imagine other forms of epistemology that shape the knowledge constituting interculturalism. By looking at the Global North-South divide from a postcolonialist perspective, we aimed in this paper to examine the possibilities of other-than-Western/European epistemologies. The concept of interculturalidad helped us to identify such possibilities. By thinking with interculturalidad, we were able to identify some of the “politics of diversity” (Kallio et al. 2021) that colonial legacies present to the well-intentioned efforts of interculturalism. Additionally, we were able to identify examples of the ways the intercultural music exchange ideals of the Ethno World program reproduces borderless identities based on nation-state logics that obscure the continuities between the colonial past and current ideologies of national identity. In other words, we argue that, by staging national flags as the central component of the intercultural musical encounter, and, at the same time enacting intercultural practices framed around Western/European conceptions and epistemologies of music and culture without acknowledging the differences between Global North and Global South, the Ethno World program promotes experiences that mask historical and material inequalities.

None of this is to suggest that Ethno World creates false illusions of diversity. Based on the first author’s attendance at an Ethno camp and conversations with researchers who have attended other Ethno camps, they undeniably provide—from the perspective of those from the Global North at least—amazing opportunities for personal growth and musical fulfillment. Unsurprisingly, given their choice to attend an Ethno camp (and the decisions of many attendees to attend several camps), participants from both the Global North and Global South believe strongly in the espoused and enacted values of Ethno World.

The observations drawn throughout this paper do not purport to be generalizable to all Ethno World experiences and participants. Indeed, this paper is only nominally about the Ethno World program. As an example of a music-focused international NGO, Ethno World is merely a case study that provides a window onto how the logic of intercultural music exchange may reflect and reinscribe differences along Global North-South axes. The operation of this logic is highly salient for the field of music education. For example, Schipper (2010) claims that intercultural education has been an issue for music educators since the 1980s, with three primary activities: (1) teachers using their own resources to introduce world musics in the classroom, (2) using published resources with “inclusive methodologies,” and (3) inviting “culture bearers” into the classroom. He concludes, “All three approaches have led to successes and disappointments” (106). The disappointments he describes appear to relate primarily to the veracity of teaching with respect to various world musics (i.e., “authenticity”). Consistent with European conceptions of interculturalism, intercultural music education is positioned as a problem of knowledge.

Biesta (2023) writes, It makes all the difference … whether intercultural communication takes place on a train, in a garden, in a shop, in a classroom, in a hospital, on the internet, on a battleground, in the ‘first’ world or the ‘third’ world, during an invasion or special military operation, and so on” (241). Context is indeed critical. As an international NGO, JMI is not accountable to the tenets of public education. However, for school music educators committed to revisiting and critiquing current music education practices—understood in this context as sensitivity to how the history of colonialism and coloniality structure our understandings and experiences of the world—it is imperative to be ever-vigilant about frames of reference that may inadvertently (re)produce (re)inscribe ways of being in the world that ignore or erase colonial histories—in this case, those of the Global South.

Westerlund and Karlsen (2020) state, “[A] time is approaching when we can, and we need, to reposition music educators at the heart of societal transformation where living with diversity becomes an everyday, and ethical, way of living together” (216). We wholeheartedly agree. Our hope is that our intercultural efforts in music education do not inadvertently deepen Global North-South divisions by treating interculturalism as a simple problem of competence (sensitivity, dialogue, humility, etc.), thereby overlooking or bracketing out colonial legacies that benefit those in the Global North at the expense of those in the Global South.

About the Authors

Roger Mantie is Professor, Department of Arts, Culture and Media at University of Toronto Scarborough, with a graduate appointment at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He enjoyed previous appointments at Arizona State University and Boston University. He is the author of Music, Leisure, Education: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (2021, Oxford University Press), co-author of Education, Music, and the Social Lives of Undergraduates: Collegiate A Cappella and the Pursuit of Happiness (2020, Bloomsbury), co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Technology and Music Education (2017) and the Oxford Handbook of Music Making and Leisure (2016), and is the Senior Editor of the International Journal of Community Music. Complete information at

Pedro Tironi Rodó holds a Bachelor of Arts (Music Performance) from the University of Chile, a Bachelor’s in Music Therapy from the University of Salvador (Argentina), MA in Music from the Catalunya College of Music, and a Master of Teaching at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. During 2020, he worked as a Research Assistant under the guidance of Laura Risk and Roger Mantie within the Department of Arts, Culture and Media, University of Toronto Scarborough. Currently, he is an independent researcher focused on music teaching and learning in diverse socio-linguistic settings and works as an elementary school music teacher within the Toronto District School Board.


Aman, Robert. 2014. Impossible interculturality?: Education and the colonial difference in a multicultural world. Linköping University Press.

Aman, Robert. 2015. In the name of interculturality: On colonial legacies in intercultural education. British Educational Research Journal 41 (3): 520–34.

Aman, Robert. 2017. Decolonising intercultural education: Colonial differences, the geopolitics of knowledge, and inter-epistemic dialogue. Routledge.

Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Revised and extended edition. Verso.

Anderson, William M., and Patricia Shehan Campbell. 2010. Multicultural perspectives in music education. 3rd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Theory, Culture & Society 7 (2–3): 295–310.

Aw, Fanta. 2017. Foreword. In Globalization of internationalization, edited by Hans de Wit, Jocelyne Gacel-Ávila, Elspeth Jones, and Nico Jooste, xxi–xxiii. Routledge.

Barrett, Martyn. 2013. Intercultural competence: A distinctive hallmark of interculturalism? In Interculturalism and multiculturalism: Similarities and differences, edited by Martyn Barrett, 147–68. Council of Europe Publishing.

Bartleet, Brydie Leigh, Catherine Grant, Charulatha Mani, and Vanessa Tomlinson. 2020. Global mobility in music higher education: Reflections on how intercultural music-making can enhance students’ musical practices and identities. International Journal of Music Education 38 (2):161–76.

Biesta, Gert. 2023. Becoming contemporaneous: Intercultural communication pedagogy beyond culture and without ethics. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 31 (2): 237–51.

Campbell, Patricia Shehan 2003. Ethnomusicology and music education: Crossroads for knowing music, education, and culture. Research Studies in Music Education 21 (1): 16–30.

Campbell, Patricia Shehan. 2004. Teaching music globally: Experiencing music, expressing culture. Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Patricia Shehan. 2005. Cultural diversity in music education: Directions and challenges for the 21st century. Australian Academic Press in collaboration with Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Griffith University.

Campbell, Patricia Shehan. 2018. Music, education, and diversity: Bridging cultures and communities. Teachers College Press.

Council of Europe. 2008. White paper on intercultural dialogue: Living together as equals in dignity.

Deardorff, Darla K. 2004. In search of intercultural competence. International Educator 13 (2):13–15.

Deardorff, Darla K. 2006. Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education 10 (3): 241–66.

Dervin, Fred, and Ashley Simpson. 2021. Interculturality and the political within education. Routledge.

Dolloff, Lori-Anne. 2020. To honor and inform: Addressing cultural humility in intercultural music teacher education in Canada. In Visions for intercultural music teacher education, edited by Heidi Westerlund, Sidsel Karlsen and Heidi Partti, 135–48. Springer Open.

Dussel, Enrique. 1993. Eurocentrism and modernity: Introduction to the Frankfurt lectures. Boundary 2 20 (3): 65–76.

Elias, Amanuel, and Fethi Mansouri. 2020. A systematic review of studies on interculturalism and intercultural dialogue. Journal of Intercultural Studies 41 (4): 490–523.

Grosfoguel, Ramón. 2002. Colonial difference, geopolitics of knowledge, and global coloniality in the modern/colonial capitalist world-system. Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 25 (3): 203–24.

Gustafson, Bret. 2009. New languages of the state: Indigenous resurgence and the politics of knowledge in Bolivia. Duke University Press.

JM International. 2022. Ethno: Global music gatherings.

JM International. n.d.a. About JMI.

JM International. n.d.b. Ethno.

Kallio, Alexis Anja, Heidi Westerlund, Sidsel Karlsen, Kathryn Marsh, and Eva Saether, eds. 2021. The politics of diversity in music education: Springer Open.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. 2018. Globalizing music education: A framework. Indiana University Press.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. 2021. Internationalization, hegemony, and diversity: In search of a new vision for the global music education community. In The politics of diversity in music education, edited by Alexis Anja Kallio, Heidi Westerlund, Sidsel Karlsen, Kathryn Marsh and Eva Saether, 191–202. Springer Open.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding media: The extensions of man. McGraw-Hill.

Meer, Nasar, Tariq Modood, and Ricard Zapata-Barrero, eds. 2016. Multiculturalism and interculturalism: Debating the dividing lines. Edinburgh University Press.

Mignolo, Walter. 2005. The idea of Latin America, Blackwell manifestos. Blackwell.

Ōmae, Ken’ichi. 1990. The borderless world: Power and strategy in the interlinked economy. Harper Business.

Quijano, Anibal. 2000. Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South 1 (3): 533–80.

Roberts, J. Christopher, and Patricia S. Campbell. 2015. Multiculturalism and social justice: Complementary movements for education in and through music. In The Oxford handbook of social justice in music education, edited by Cathy Benedict, Patrick K. Schmidt, Gary Spruce and Paul Woodford, 272–86. Oxford University Press.

Schippers, Huib, and Melissa Cain. 2010. A tale of three cities: Dreams and realities of cultural diversity in music education. In Navigating music and sound education, edited by Julie Ballantyne and Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, 161–74. Cambridge Scholars.

Schippers, Huib. 2010. Facing the music: Shaping music education from a global perspective. Oxford University Press.

UNESCO. 2006. UNESCO guidelines on intercultural education.

Vertovec, Steven. 2007. Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (6): 1024–54.

Volk, Terese. 1998. Music, education, and multiculturalism: Foundations and principles. Oxford University Press.

Westerlund, Heidi, Alexis Anja Kallio, and Sidsel Karlsen. 2022. Interrogating intercultural competence through a “pedagogy of interruption”: A metasynthesis of intercultural outreach projects in music teacher education. Research Studies in Music Education 44 (2): 380–98.×211026007

Westerlund, Heidi, and Sidsel Karlsen. 2017. Knowledge production beyond local and national blindspots: Remedying professional ocularcentrism of diversity in music teacher education. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 16 (3):78–107.

Westerlund, Heidi, and Sidsel Karlsen. 2020. Epilogue: Music teacher education engaging with the politics of diversity. In Visions for intercultural music teacher education, edited by Heidi Westerlund, Sidsel Karlsen and Heidi Partti, 215–19. Springer Open.

Westerlund, Heidi, Sidsel Karlsen, Alexis Anja Kallio, Danielle Shannon Treacy, Laura Miettinen, Vilma Timonen, Claudia Gluschankof, Amira Ehrlich, and Iman Bikram Shah. 2022. Visions for intercultural music teacher education in complex societies. Research Studies in Music Education 44 (2): 293–312.×211032490

Westerlund, Heidi, Sidsel Karlsen, and Heidi Partti. 2020a. Introduction. In Visions for intercultural music teacher education, edited by Heidi Westerlund, Sidsel Karlsen and Heidi Partti, 1-12. Springer Open.

Westerlund, Heidi, Sidsel Karlsen, and Heidi Partti, eds. 2020b. Visions for intercultural music teacher education. Springer Open.


[1] See

[2] Elias and Mansouri (2020) draw attention to the origins and variations of interculturalism, which include what they describe as the European version, Canadian version, and Latin American version. In this article we focus on the European and Latin American conceptions.

[3] See

[4] We do not make a distinction between the West and the Global North in this paper.

[5] At the time of the research, the term “artistic leader” referred to the people hired to facilitate rehearsals and create arrangements for the culminating performances.

[6] We use the pronoun “they” not to indicate non-binary individuals, but to protect the identities of the interviewees.