Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

A Sociological View of Music Education: An Essay in the Sociology of Knowledge

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

A Sociological View of Music Education: An Essay in the Sociology of Knowledge

Article excerpt

In 1982 Keith Swanwick, Professor of Music Education at the University of London Institute of Education, delivered a paper to the 15th International Society for Music Education Conference. Its theme was a consideration of my own work over the previous decade as a "case study which illuminates several problems in music education" (Swanwick 1982: [1]). It is certainly reassuring to find such an interest in sociological work from an outsider to this discipline - the more so when sociology itself is increasingly coming under attack. In the recent government cuts inflicted upon tertiary education in Britain, it is the social sciences that were earmarked for especially harsh treatment. Sir Keith Joseph made his own views explicit when, as Secretary of State for Education and Science, he requested that the word "science" be deleted from the title of the Social Science Research Council. While many sociologists, myself included, are unhappy about some of the connotations of science for our discipline, such reservations are rather different from the more sinister motives implied by Sir Keith. Perhaps the only redeeming feature of this otherwise ludicrous affair was the variety of humorous parodies that ensued, with Professor Laurie Taylor concluding in his Times Higher Education Supplement column that the research council's problems could be solved by labelling it the Social Marmalade Research Council (see Taylor 1983). In such a climate the attention given by Swanwick to a sociological perspective on music education is to be welcomed, even when, after conceding certain parts of my argument, he proceeds to isolate what he believes are "three crucial misconceptions" in the thesis, culminating in certain aims which he argues are both "anti-educational" and "practically impossible to carry forward in schools."

This paper, like Swanwick's, could also be described as a case study of my own work and the particular sociological approach to music education that it has adopted. Not surprisingly, however, its focus will be very different from that of Swanwick's. His analysis concentrated upon both the musical assumptions underpinning my thesis and its practical implications for music teaching, while I will be concerned with its sociological aspects. Nor will there be any attempt here to provide a response to Swanwick. The issues he raises are both important and complex, but given that they are prefaced on a considerable misunderstanding of sociological arguments advanced by both John Shepherd (see Shepherd 1977) and myself and also, we would argue, of aesthetic considerations pertaining to the essence of music, we have addressed his criticisms in detail elsewhere (see Vulliamy & Shepherd 1984).

In a sense my paper is an essay in the sociology of knowledge. It will show how a particular sociological approach to music education emerged and developed in Britain as a direct response to both shifting concerns in the sociology of education and to special biographical factors. In focussing upon sociological, as opposed to musical, criticisms of my work, I will highlight the circumscribed nature of the issues it has raised. For example, having been located in a sociology of education paradigm, rather than in mainstream sociology, British work has neglected many of those features which have constituted research in this area in other countries. While providing, therefore, what is hopefully a useful survey of one particular sociological view of music education, this paper should also demonstrate the profound ways in which our knowledge has been restricted by disciplinary, institutional, and biographical factors.

The origins of my work are located in what is still rather misleadingly referred to as the "new sociology of education," a radical departure in sociological thinking on education whose advent was signalled in 1971 by the publication of the influential volume Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education (Young 1971). …

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