Social Reproduction or Revolution? A Sociological Interrogation of Music Education’s Purpose and Potentials

Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (Australia)

May 2023

Published in Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 22 (1): 83–102. [pdf]

Abstract: This review article critically engages with the sociological perspectives on capital, class, status and social reproduction shared in the second section of the Routledge Handbook to Sociology of Music Education. Exploring the application of sociological theories and concepts in various music education contexts, three core themes identified across chapters are examined: the politics of belonging; illusio and governance; and professionalism and capital. Through this, we argue that music education carries a social and societal responsibility, demanding nuanced considerations of the ethical and political complexity inherent in policy, practice, and research. Considerations that the Handbook exemplifies in challenging and inspiring ways.

Keywords: Belonging, governance, sociology of music education, politics, professionalism

Pierre Bourdieu (2000) described the work of the sociologist as paradoxical, breaking “the enchanted circle of collective denial” (5) by shining a light on “what we least want to know about what we are” (8). As sociological theories have been applied, explored, and extended within the field of music education, Sidsel Karlsen (2021) notes that the primary questions that arise are: empirical, considering “What does music education… mean to these people, in this particular context?”; related to matters of structural power and social hierarchy, asking “Who benefits from that?”; and revelatory, contributing new understandings as to “What does all this reveal about who we are as music educators?” (139). With Bourdieu’s caution in mind, the second section of The Routledge Handbook to Sociology of Music Education (Wright, Johansen, Kanellopoulos, and Schmidt 2021, 167), which focuses on the themes of Capital, Class, Status, and Social Reproduction, may seem like a recipe for some rather bleak reading. However, the twelve chapters move beyond straightforward critique and do more than raise a mirror to the flaws and shortcomings of our field. Chapters grapple with the ethical complexities that accompany critical interrogations of contextualized power and inequality and put sociological theory to work in nuanced and hopeful ways. Section editor Geir Johansen (2021a) writes that these chapters “describe a wide variety of ways in which to address the social and societal responsibility of music education and its educators” (168, emphasis added), making this section as much about what is as what could be. It is this more future-oriented stance with which we wish to engage in this paper. In our readings, we identified three core themes woven throughout the book section: (i) the politics of belonging, (ii) illusio and governance, and (iii) professionalism and capital, each of which we conceptualize and discuss in relation to chapters of The Routledge Handbook to Sociology of Music Education (Wright, Johansen, Kanellopoulos, and Schmidt 2021, 167) in turn.

The Politics of Belonging  

It is difficult to disagree with a desire to belong, or to foster belonging in and through music education, yet the pathways to social inclusion are not always linear nor wholly “good.” The spatial metaphors often applied to music education through the discourses of inclusion focus our attention on the boundaries: “it’s them, and us,” “either you’re in tune, or you’re out—literally” (Holder 2020). Yet, equating inclusion with group membership is problematic, particularly in light of more relational conceptualizations of music education (e.g., Miettinen 2021; Carey and Grant 2016; Lind and McKoy 2016; Hess 2015) that emphasize negotiation and context-responsivity. Heidi Westerlund and Sidsel Karlsen (2017) even argue that celebrations of diversity have “resulted in a tendency to further ethnicize and even racialize music by establishing the ethnicity as the main criteria—or political agenda—for musical diversity … tying ‘musical cultures,’ peoples, and geographical locations together” (79). Such developments in the sociology of music education have enabled investigation of Wayne Bowman’s (2007) caution that “music is always inclusive and exclusive” (110, emphasis added) with increasing sophistication. Thus, in working towards a view of inclusion that can attend to the complexity of social belonging, identity as transitional (Probyn 2015), and the permeability of (always contested) social boundaries, we (the authors of this paper) follow Nira Yuval-Davis’s (2006) distinction between belonging as related to “social locations; identifications and emotional attachments; and ethical and political values” (199) and the politics of belonging as related to the boundaries that separate “a delineated collectivity … [as] an act of active and situated imagination” (204). The politics of belonging in music education thus attends to why and how imagined communities (Anderson 1991) form in our universities, schools, and classrooms, and to what ends. It approaches belonging as constitutive of both personal agency and social negotiation.

Within the field of music education, identifications of who one is extend beyond gendered, racialized, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, and other social positionings to also include musical skills, preferences, and experiences—all of which have implications for belonging. In Chapter 12, Gwen Moore (2021) explores music students’ experiences of higher music education in the context of “Ireland’s bimusical history” (190). Drawing upon the work of Bourdieu, Moore argues that the “musical values associated with the dominant musical habitus and cultural capital in the field” (193) of higher music education, namely Western art music, establish an “unequal playing field” (193) between students whose musical upbringings align with these musical paradigms, rather than Irish traditional music. Such an unequal playing field is characteristic of almost any conservatoire setting in the world, as students with substantial family and financial support, encouragement, access to formal Western art music lessons at school, and other privileges hold “trump” cards over others (190). Yet, merely including other musics in the curriculum (without changing the rules of the “game”) has been strongly criticized, enabling us to “believe that diversity is ‘properly taken care of’ while, in fact, much remains to be done” (Westerlund and Karlsen 2017, 80). Although Moore (2021) does not employ Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence directly, as “the violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 167), descriptions of teachers intervening in students’ musical trajectories to reshape them “by the structured principles of Western classical music” (Moore 2021, 191) raises critical questions as to how, and why, we impose particular value systems over others in and through music education. Yet, such instances, as in Moore’s (2021) chapter when students are quite explicitly warned against “mixing musical styles” (191) or developing more balanced bimusical identities, are among more easily recognizable processes of violence, whereas others may be more subtle—as other chapters in the section explore. It is also worth being mindful that “inclusion in the mainstream, and acceptance by dominant social groups is not the only means by which … individuals may become powerful” (Kallio 2015, 100), and that exclusion itself can serve as “a means of preserving certain practices and dimensions of existence from regulatory power, from normative violence” (Brown 1998, 314). Thus, where symbolic violence is reliant on an underlying acceptance of inequity, bringing these inequities to light may also exacerbate oppression if one focuses only on the “affirming–alienating” (193) dualism and who has a “feel for the game” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 98, cited in Moore 2021, 185) without calling into question the rules of play (the politics of belonging). It is precisely this that we, the authors, would like to examine in relation to Chapter 22 by Ruth Wright (2021), by placing these sociological ideas in conversation with those of Petter Dyndahl (2021) in Chapter 11.

Wright (2021) draws on the Classical Sociological canon to explore the transformative potentials of “music education as remix and life-hack” for disadvantaged youth, exploring the notion “that people are affected by art, and further, that we remix aesthetic resources to self-produce. … [W]e life hack our subjectivities by using the aesthetic resources available in our society” (MacDonald 2016, xiii cited in Wright 2021, 321). Wright (2021) explores these theories and themes through the story of Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew, a now successful rap artist who performs under the name Plan B, whose TEDxObserver talk promotes his own 2012 film, “iLL Manors” (featuring his music). In this talk, Drew narrates a life of school exclusion, being “ignored by society,” and finding a sense of belonging (within mainstream society) through “conscious hip hop” during his time at a pupil referral unit in the United Kingdom. Characterizing Drew’s experiences not as individual pathology but as an “anomic situation” (317), “an absence, breakdown, confusion or conflict in the norms of a society” (Marshall 1998, 20, cited in Wright 2021, 317), Wright (2021) draws on Durkheimian and Mertonian sociology whereby deviance is not an inherent characteristic but “is in a sense ‘called forth’ by certain conventional values and by a class structure involving differential access to the approved opportunities” (Merton 1938, 679, emphasis original). Wright’s central argument is that music education “must allow the previously unthinkable to become thinkable in our music classes, in our case sub-cultural musics” to avoid or alleviate anomie or alienation amongst our students, just as Drew discovered “a more socially coherent path” (Wright 2021, 318), which might be considered as a (re)formation of the self through hip hop and rap. Noting that the root cause of “anomie is social inequality” (Wright 2021, 319), Wright positions music within a complex dialectic of social reproduction and transformation, a dialectic that is further explored in Dyndahl’s (2021) chapter, as he engages with the Rancièrian underpinnings of Gert Biesta’s theoretical writings to explore the question: what is music education for?

Engaging with this notion of self-making, Dyndahl (2021) critiques Biesta’s notion of subjectification, which is derived from Rancière’s writings and defined as working towards “ways of being that hint at independence” (Biesta 2010, 21, cited in Dyndahl 2021, 170). Dyndahl (2021) argues that this perspective on subjectification has been adopted relatively uncritically in many education fields, as an “undivided beneficial aim for all education” (180). As an alternative, Dyndahl (2021) proposes a Foucauldian view of the power relations in play through his concept of subjectivation: being “subject to someone else by control and dependence, and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge” (Foucault 2001, 331, cited in Dyndahl 2021, 180). Dyndahl (2021) views subjectivation as a concept “analogous to Bourdieu’s habitus concept, meaning that the body not only exists in society, but society also exists in the body” (180). It is here that a discrepancy arises. Whereas Foucauldian subjectivation can offer a valuable lens, it is also limited, as “everything Foucault is focusing on [is]… situated in the space of what [Rancière] call[s] the police” (Rancière 2000, 1). The police, for Rancière, represent “the regime of identity and the calculus of identities, the symbolic constitution of a society as a set of defined and identifiable groups” (Rancière 2010, 176). Accordingly, Foucauldian subjectivation is only a useful perspective for understanding processes of identification and individuation amongst those who already exist within an established “order of bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying, and that sees those bodies are assigned by name to a particular place and task” (Rancière 2010, 25).

Importantly, Rancièrian subjectification—and that which informs Biesta’s thinkingfocuses on the political subjectivities of those who do not count, those who are not recognized to exist. Unlike subjectivation, subjectificationand thus politicsare processes that perturb the police order through disidentification rather than identification. These processes constitute an “intervention in the visible and the sayable” that reconfigures the police order (Rancière 2010, 37), only to be reformed and ruptured again in another verification of equality. We would argue that such rupturing processes of Rancièrian subjectification are rarely “an undivided beneficial aim for all education” (Dyndahl 2021, 180) in schools, but most especially in contexts such as prisons, juvenile detention facilities, or pupil referral units such as described in Wright’s (2021) chapter (22). If, as sociologist Jock Young (2007) summarizes, “mass education … is the nursing ground of equal opportunity, yet, as subcultural theorists from Albert Cohen to Paul Willis have pointed out, its structures serve to reproduce … divisions” (32–33), then the disruption that subjectification demands would mean that such instances (however important) are likely infrequent, discouraged, and fleeting.

It is also through this perspective that we might reflect upon the emancipatory role of music in Wright’s chapter. Was “the previously unthinkable … [made] thinkable” (Wright 2021, 318) for Drew and his teachers? Or was Drew’s process of self (re)formation one that reinforced the police order with Durkheimian anomie framing his social exclusion through the individualized allure of integration, as a personal inability to cope with “conditions of uncertainty and lack of regulation” (Wright 2021, 317)? What then of the “root causes” of “bigotry, extremism, injustice, and exclusion” (313)? While music may have provided Drew with important tools to achieve a “feel for the game” (Moore 2021, 185), the social inclusion achieved through the “conscious hip hop” only makes subjectivation possible within a game designed and controlled by the police order. Whilst we would advocate strongly for music to be accessible for all young people, especially those experiencing disadvantage or social exclusion, we are wary that good intentions may reproduce the very “exclusions [that music education] attempts to remedy and in doing so replays the resentments which underlie the deep social divisions within late modern society” (Young 2007, 129).

Perhaps, then, the problem is not that subjectification is an inherently flawed concept or one that is fundamentally anti-sociological, but rather that Biesta underplays the political (in the Rancièrian sense) dimensions and the tensions that inevitably arise in formal education settings. Indeed, Biesta’s (2009, 2017) pedagogy of interruption has largely been applied at an individual level (e.g., Westerlund, Kallio, and Karlsen 2022), in terms of both student identity and desires. Less attention has been paid to the interruption of education or broader social systems themselves, within which Rancièrian subjectification may remain an impossible ideal or fleeting disturbance. Indeed, the police order may remain an attractive alternative to subjectification or a placative performance for those seeking belonging within (or at least no trouble with) the imagined community of the powerful.

Illusio and Governance 

The desire (let alone the ability) to belong within social groupings is complex, and both the arts and education have a key role in individual subjectivation/subjectification but also the expansion or reinforcement of the boundaries that determine who is included in (and in turn, excluded from) any given collective. Johansen (2021b), in Chapter 21, considers this attraction to particular social fields through Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa and illusio. Doxa, here, is not unlike Rancière’s police order, and it “entails those unspoken rules, rooted in unquestioned truths defining what is discursively appropriate” (Johansen 2021b, 302), whereas “illusio points to what makes particular social fields attractive to particular social groups” (302). In other words,

if someone is invested in the illusio of a field, they are motivated by its stakes as something worth struggling over; they see the investment of their own time, effort, and emotion as a valuable endeavour; and they are committed to reaping the rewards of the field, that is, they see something worth aspiring towards. Once an illusio is personally invested in, a trajectory is formed where one is “taken in and by the game” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 116, cited in Threadgold 2018, 39).

The influence of often competing social gravities and the multiple (and fluid) belongings of both teachers and students have significant implications for critical music education. Furthermore, the transformative potential of music education upon such a landscape requires a deep commitment to reflexive ethics if it is to be more than a civilizing tool to inscribe a “certain type of cultural accumulation and a certain image of cultural accomplishment” (Bourdieu 1984, 25). The extent to which illusio engages the individual as an accomplice in their own subjugation is a challenging sociological investigation for any context of music education, including research.

Athena Lill’s (2021) chapter (14) focuses on music and the social imaginaries of young people, and in particular, the emancipatory potentials for these “imaginaries … to transform reality whilst simultaneously being transformed by the practices of individuals” (210). Lill (2021) notes that “within every school is a distinct ‘underlife’ … a shared project of resistance” (211) that is made possible through spaces such as “the Internet and the physical space of the school” (212). The allure of self-management and promotion that the internet and social media seem to provide is not restricted to youth, and there has been a widespread assumption that “digitization leads to the democratization of the music market and better career chances for musicians” (Schwetter 2019, 186). However, despite the potential for self-making (subjectivation) that these spaces afford by their very nature, they are also sites of governance and surveillance. The musical expressions of the tweens in Lill’s (2021) chapter are thus simultaneously expressions of identity and becoming, as well as a reinforcement of “media-constructed” tween values and identities. Thus, we might question the extent to which “tweens themselves … [can] emancipat[e] themselves from the construction of this group [tweenagers] by adults” (211), particularly when the tween imaginary itself was created, and continues to be shaped, by transnational conglomerates via professional influencers and predatory advertising. Their willingness to project “their intimate friendship … onto the global stage” (215) through music, 2-minute makeovers, parody dances, and comedy sketches is as much about their growing independence as it is the exploitation of their “labor to create commodified cultural products which [are then sold] back to [them]” (Martens 2011, 49) “veiled in activities that are appealing, social, and fun” (64). While the musical activities of the tweens explored by Lill (2021) exist outside of the school context, this entanglement between emancipation and exploitation raises important questions for school music education. While it has long been argued that understanding music as social action places a different “ethic of care” on the shoulders of teachers (Elliott 2012; Kallio 2015), positioning music within the coercive politics of late capitalism raises critical questions relating to how we ought to prepare future music teachers, alongside the broader questions of what school music education is for.

While the neoliberalization of music education policies and practices in a variety of settings has been subject to considerable critique (Bradley and Goble 2021), Øivind Varkøy (2021) argues in Chapter 17 for greater reflexivity and nuance. This, he suggests, can be found through a “more profound understanding of neoliberalism; as a political rationality” (247). Transcending understandings of neoliberalism as right-wing politics, Varkøy (2021) adopts a Foucauldian lens in analyzing neoliberalism as “a kind of governmental reason” (248) that imposes itself on the whole of society, music education included. Whereas for Lill’s (2021) young girls this political rationality shaped their induction to the “game” of musical production/consumption, Varkøy (2021) relates this to music education policy in particular, noting that politicians “seldom base their schemes and thinking on solid knowledge that confirms the causality between the experiences of or activities within music and the wanted outcome … but political beliefs” (252) as a ritual rationality through which “music possesses magical powers” (252). Such magical powers are familiar to many school music educators, but particularly those working in contexts where music is introduced to be transformative, such as youth justice systems and community contexts. (We are reminded of this illusio of magic critiqued as kitsch in an article by Kertz-Welzel in 2016 and critiqued as a civilizing power by Hickey 2015). Attending to this ritual rationality as (at least) an oversimplification, Patrick Schmidt (2021) describes how these “moralising or dogmatic engagements … function … mostly descriptively, as critiques [that] downplay the hybridity of … social spaces by creating iconic representations that only partially reflect reality” (236). Schmidt (2021) likens this to a form of ontological gerrymandering, whereby “traditional conceptualizations of social problems in terms of objective conditions and causes” give way to a definitionalist approach that portrays “statements about conditions and behaviours as objective while relativizing the definitions and claims made about them” (Woolgar and Pawluch 1985, 216). Although approaching the problem from very different perspectives, both Schmidt (2021) and Varkøy (2021) advocate for less normative and more complex perspectives on the “sociological tensions between human and cultural capital asymmetries” (Schmidt 2021, 244) in music education. Where Schmidt (2021) suggests that “an expansion on environmental analyses based on sociological theory and method” (245) opens new possibilities for organizations to engage with diverse groups of people in meaningful ways, Varkøy (2021) sees promise in philosophy in working towards “profound political and social critique and action” (254).

Yet, the complexity and “ambivalence” (Schmidt 2021) of musical ensembles, policies, and practices may not always be readily apparent, and many are invested in the illusio. In Chapter 15, Gareth Dylan Smith (2021) gives an example of the policy doublespeak characteristic of ontological gerrymandering in the United Kingdom, where the policy marketization and promotion of “challenger institutions” of higher popular music education as democratizing alternatives simultaneously and “almost entirely subsidiz[e] ‘high culture’ venues and companies” (Smith 2021, 219). Similarly, in Chapter 19, Martin Fautley (2021) argues that “hegemony … exerted by those with power over the curriculum” (276) has generated an internalist fallacy whereby “knowledge is given, and [is] something that has to be acquired,” (276) but then anyone wanting to be identified as educated experiences “knowledge changes … as internal features of the knowledge itself” (276). Such examples can be seen to perpetuate a broad Hidden Curriculum that operates to preserve the illusio as “the ideological and subliminal message presented within the overt curriculum” (Pinar et al. 1995, 27). In Chapter 21, Johansen (2021b) explores three ways in which the Hidden Curriculum can manifest in music education: as the “sides of the curriculum … yet to be discovered … hidden by someone … and [those] sides of a curriculum [that are] revealed to some but remain hidden by others” (301). Particularly in the latter, Johansen (2021b) extends familiar discussions that have largely focused on the dominance of Western classical music in formal education settings—and increasingly, musical hierarchies in popular music education contexts (see Dyndahl 2016)—to the underlying values and ideologies that are propagated through teaching music. Johansen (2021b) focuses particularly on the ways in which hidden curricula can (re)enforce the illusio of unjust “games” and “enable[e] and giv[e] room for sexism, sexual discrimination, and harassment” (306), from the enforcement of provocative concert dress codes to the lack of consequences for sexual predators in the European Association of Conservatoires. Yet, while some injustices are revealed to some, Johansen (2021b) also notes that they are hidden for others. He offers the example of LGBTQI+ students who are required to contend with “hetero-normative attitudes … and a lack of spaces for identity to evolve as well as being solidified and embraced” (307), seen to “exist” in some senses but not in others.

So, what does one do with this awareness? Johansen (2021b) suggests that our response ought to be guided by ethics and consideration of potential harm, while also welcoming the conflicts that inevitably arise as an opportunity to “critically interrogate who is included in the educational community” (Kallio 2021, 163). Yet, as Johansen (2021b) notes, “this is easier said than done” (308) and requires new skills in fostering “active, creative, and political engagement[s] in music education that foreground … relationality, connectedness, and an ethic of carehowever difficult and discomforting” (Kallio 2021, 163).

In fostering philosophical reassurance towards such discomforts, and reconciling these “conflicting, oppositional stances” (Smith 2021, 226), Smith (2021) suggests that a punk pedagogical approach might enable students to “embrace contradictions, acknowledge conflict, and, above all, think for themselves” (226). However, he notes that the current climate of education, as one driven by qualification and teacher accountability, constructs an education system of providers and “customers,” not unlike the consumer-culture described by Lill (2021). The game of education then, may not be so much about social change or even individual self-making, but a marketized illusio in which we are willing participants in our own governance. As such, a punk ethos may well be an effective means by which “musicians, educators, and scholars … confront … bullshit and double speak where we see them” (Smith 2021, 228)—if we see them. Indeed, in line with Seth Kahn-Egan’s (1998) definition of punk pedagogy as one that “teaches students that resistance resulting from inertia is pointless, as is rebellion for its own sake” (101), one needs to know the “game” before one can change the rules.

Professionalism and Capital 

Viewing education, as Smith (2021) suggests, as “a space that should disturb, a space of difficultya space that challenges complacent thinking” (226), raises important questions as to what constitutes professionalism in music education. The imperative to prepare future professionals to work in such a space of negotiation, tension, and disruption is vastly different to characterizations of professionalism as “performances (of individual subjects or organizations) that serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of ‘quality,’ or ‘moments’ of promotion or inspection” (Ball 2003, 216). Such performances, to which individual teachers can be held accountable, have been criticised as a distraction from democracyreinforcing neoliberal governance and inequality (e.g., Jenlink 2017; Sahlberg and Walker 2021). However, Christine Carroll (2021) cautions that employing pedagogical approaches “centered solely around the knower [in striving towards democratic practice] may obscure or even impede access to valuable knowledge” (206), particularly when these intersect with educational hierarchies in ways that reinforce distinctions between “high” and “low” art. Such dichotomies, between art forms and also between pedagogical approaches, Carroll argues, are underpinned by assumptions and values that are often neglected in arguments of what good practice and professionalism are. For example, as many policymakers attempt to ensure quality in the classroom, a “circularity of teaching and assessment” is often generated, “where the purpose of teaching seems to have become concerned mainly with the data production; the ‘datafication’ of teaching” (Fautley 2021, 283).

While Fautley (2021) focuses primarily on student assessment, these questions can also be asked of teacher preparation. For example, the Queensland government in Australia have attempted to mitigate concerns over teacher quality and professionalism through the implementation of a scripted curriculum (Barton, Garvis, and Ryan 2014) “pre-packaged lesson plans that explicitly script out exactly what the teacher will say, show, and doand often even how students are expected to respondso that the teacher only need read from a manual in order to deliver the lesson” (Fitz and Nikolaidis 2020, 195). Returning to Schmidt’s (2021) argument in Chapter 16, such “distortion and cooptation of critical ways of knowing and thinking and the consequent entrenchment and ossification of personal and institutional positions” (Schmidt 2021, 232) result not in the professionalization of the field but a “washback” cycle, where “what is assessed becomes what is valued, which becomes what is taught” (McEwen 1995, 42, as cited in Fautley 2021, 283). However, politics (in the Rancièrian sense of disrupting the police order) is not easy work, and it arguably requires regular, and strategic, concessions.

In Chapter 20, Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce (2021) draw upon the work of Anthony Giddens (1984) to examine the “dynamic dialectic between human agency and structure which makes generative creative action by individuals possible, and consequently affords the possibility for human agency to have the power to both reproduce and transform society” (Philpott and Spruce 2021, 289). When music teachers or scholars “find their values challenged or displaced by the terrors of performativity” (Ball 2003, 216) demanded of neoliberal cooptations of professionalism or ontological gerrymandering, responses cannot necessarily disrupt the system entirely or once-and-for-all. Indeed, many educational institutions and systems demand demonstrations of professional competence as a teacher or scholar, further reinforcing and reproducing the systems that constrain opportunities for agency. Philpott and Spruce (2021) propose Priestley et al.’s (2015) ecological model as one framework for understanding agency in these contradictory spaces “as a configuration of influences from the past, orientations toward the future, and engagement with the present” (23, as cited in Philpott and Spruce 2021, 290). In other words, implicit personal beliefs and values arise as a result of a teacher’s own experience of music-making and music education (or as Priestley et al. 2015 call “life histories” and “professional histories”).

The complexity of these experiences that form a music teacher’s ontological, epistemological, pedagogical, and ethical values influence and structure “everyday practice, but also engagement with and the nature of their agency” (Philpott and Spruce 2021, 291). As such, one might expect a teacher with a background of improvisation to be more willing to take risks and exercise agency in ways that place them in vulnerable positions than teachers trained within a musical culture that strictly adheres to a musical score or fosters ideals of perfectionism (Wiggins 2011). The tensions that underly professional practice establish a dualism between risk and agency, as teachers navigate different teaching contexts and musical worlds. It is through pre-service teacher education that the potential for disrupting these layers of hidden and tacit structural and cultural binds exists, where “agency can be intuitive and unintentional and yet has more potential power when it is motivated, intentional, deliberate, and purposeful” (Philpott and Spruce 2021, 296). Professionalism may thus be reconsidered from an accountability to others, to an agency where teachers are “the architects of their own curriculum” (Fautley 2021, 279). Perhaps aligning with Smith’s (2021) punk pedagogical approach, Fautley (2021) describes the emergence of a “folk pedagogy,” in which “teachers’ implicit understandings are privileged over policy requirements” (279), thus challenging the fixity of educational structures from within. Recognizing that “teacher agency is heavily bound up with learning agency and that the latter underpins the former” (Philpott and Spruce 2021, 298), professionalism in music education is then reframed from a quantifiable demonstration of knowledge or skill to a moral commitment to “understand our relationships … as under construction” (Westerlund 2019, 513) and a constant questioning of what such responsible action might be in each educational situation and context.

The capitals then required of teachers are more complex than cultural capital driven by the “valorisation of musical types” (see Fautley 2021, 275). In Chapter 18, Pamela Burnard and Gareth Stahl (2021) argue that focusing on “the right forms of capitals in order for agents to successfully navigate hierarchized fields” (Burnard and Stahl 2021, 259) is fraught with potentials for inequity and injustice. Moreover, resonating with Carroll’s (2021) call to attend to the underlying values and assumptions that create and reinforce musical and pedagogical hierarchies, Burnard and Stahl (2021) note that how these capitals ought to be expressed with professional integrity is intertwined with the social structures of institutions. Artists, whether performers or teachers, can thus be seen to experience tensions between these hierarchies and the “correct” expressions of their own agency, as their professional capital “can be increased or decreased with professional development” (261). In other words, different capitals do not necessarily accrue linearly or in parallel, and professionals need to find their own “calculative balance made between investment and return, time and mobility as a means to raising professional capital and the accumulation of emotional capital” (270). This balance begins by “recognising and operationalising” (259) the capitals in play, in context. Capital is thus always conceptualised in relation to an imagined community (Anderson 1991) and the politics of belonging.

In conclusion, we would like to remind readers of Elliott Eisner’s (1994) consideration of teaching not as a qualification or even a profession, but an art …

in the sense that teaching can be performed with such skill and grace that, for the student as for the teacher, the experience can be justifiably characterized as aesthetic  … in the sense that teachers, like painters, composers, actresses, and dancers, make judgements based on qualities that unfold during the course of action … in the sense that the teacher’s activity is not dominated by prescriptions or routines, but is influenced by qualities and contingencies that are unpredicted … [and] in the sense that the ends it achieves are often created in process. (175–77)

The aesthetics of music education require “the juxtaposition of two types of distancesconnectedness and detachment” (Bresler 2014, 611) in order for us to address the social and societal responsibility of our field. And yet, if this aesthetic is also to serve as a stage for dissensus that may enable “a different sharing of the sensible” (Rancière 2010, 7, emphasis original), we must also engage the imaginationas each of the twelve chapters of section two of the Routledge Handbook for the Sociology of Music Education (Wright, Johansen, Kanellopoulos, and Schmidt 2021, 167) do, and that inspire the reader to do as well.

About the Authors 

Rohan Hardy is Head of Department for the Arts, with the Queensland Department of Education, and Queensland representative for the Australian Performing Rights Association, SongMakers national advisory team. His current PhD research at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, investigates playful pedagogies in the secondary music classroom. Through such collaborative, improvisatory, and experimental approaches to teaching, he aims to develop professional practice in effective and equitable ways.

Alexis Anja Kallio is Deputy Director (Research) of the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. A specialist in the politics of arts education, Dr. Kallio works in close collaboration with community groups, policymakers, and educational institutions to explore how music education policy, practice, and research can structure opportunities for equity and justice. She is editor of Difference and Division in Music Education (2021, Routledge), co-editor of The Politics of Diversity in Music Education (2021, Springer) and co-editor of Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements (2019, Indiana University Press).


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