Music as Social and Cultural Reproduction: A Sociological Analysis of Education Processes in Ontario Schools

Article excerpt


This paper is intended to illustrate - by. reference to interviews with education officers at the Ontario Ministry of Education, coordinators of music at various Ontario boards of education, fellow music teachers and students - processes through which the teaching of music acts as a process of social and cultural reproduction in Ontario schools. It will argue that the current practice of constituting music guideline committees both at the Ministry of Education and board of education levels is based upon a definition of knowledge that reflects and makes hegemonic the thinking of dominant interests in music and education circles in Ontario, and that also reifies music knowledge. It will further demonstrate that, in being linked to the interests of the state as a powerful social institution, this reification of music-related knowledge is ideological and serves to covertly reproduce established social, moral, and aesthetic values.

Recent scholarship in the sociology of education proposed theories of social and cultural reproduction as well as theories of cultural resistance as ways of explaining how imperatives of the state impact upon the entire field of "school knowledge." Theories of social reproduction (see Althusser 1971; Bowles & Gintis 1976; Poulantzas 1973) have emphasized processes of schooling as reflecting ultimately and in a rather passive manner wider social processes, while different theories of cultural reproduction (see Bourdieu & Passeron 1977; Bernstein 1977) have emphasized the symbolic and linguistic means through which the wider social domination of schooling is conceived as being achieved. In contrast, theories of cultural resistance (see Giroux et al. 1981; Willis 1977; Hall & Jefferson 1976) emphasize the manner in which students and teachers may act positively rather than passively in terms of the meanings that life in school holds for them, at times paradoxically aiding processes of social and cultural reproduction while at the same time resisting the social and cultural status quo. With resistance theory, people are not regarded as passive ciphers operated on unilaterally by monolithic social forces. Societies and cultures are conceived as dynamic and dialectic processes. As Hebdige (1979), Willis (1977), Brake (1980), and Whitty & Dabies (1981) have demonstrated, the reproduction of culture also reproduces resistance.

It is in these dialectic terms that the role of music as an agent of social and cultural reproduction in processes of schooling has to be understood. However, arguments concerning social and cultural reproduction apply as much to questions of ethnicity as they do to questions of class stratification. Olsen (1980) and Titley and Miller (1982), for example, have found relationships between class and ethnicity in Canada to be so strong as to be almost indistinguishable. Olsen in particular finds that reproduction mechanisms answer to the structure and functioning of the state elite and concludes that among the roles that still tend to be appropriated by members of the two charter groups are the elite roles of the state system, a reality that contrasts rather starkly with the imagery of multiculturalism. This understanding of ethnic stratification functions in turn to underline a particular understanding of responses by Canadian youth to the class and ethnic dynamics of schooling. It has, for example, been found (see Haughton 1983) that the musics and personnel of the so-called "ethnic minority" Canadians are systematically and consistently excluded from influence on the definition of music knowledge in Canadian classrooms, given the educational system's definition of what counts as "musical knowledge" in schools. A major but ancillary theme of this paper is the manner in which the status quo of ethnic stratification is maintained and reproduced in part in Ontario through music education policies.

One point of departure for this paper is the work of Vulliamy and Shepherd in the sociology of music education. …


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