DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies

Working Together? Interrogating Collaboration towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Research

Interrogating Collaboration towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Research


Cornelia Gruber (University of Vienna)


Cornelia Gruber


Bi-lingual: English/French (subtitles in English)


Cornelia Gruber
Charissa Granger (University of the West Indies)
Talia Bachir-Loopuyt (University of Tours)
Marko Kölbl (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna)

Working together is a vital aspect of ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicologists have always depended upon individuals or groups in and from the research field, cultural, social, and political actors, and researchers from various disciplines. Yet, their collaborations and collaborators have not always been acknowledged as such, and the level of socio-political awareness differs from project to project. Furthermore, ethnomusicological and academic analysis, writing, and theorizing are still generally individualized and isolated practices. Working together remains a personal choice rather than being structurally encouraged, as it implies more time, effort, and resources.

Collaboration has become a keyword for an ethnomusicology that is working on decolonizing the discipline, particularly for developing collaborative research projects and applying collaborative methodologies. Applied ethnomusicology includes those “researched” in research processes, and does not write “about” people but “with” people. Yet, toward decolonizing, what does collaboration imply for power relations and the building of relationships? Has it, at this point, become an empty promise within a neoliberal and neocolonial academic system? Are “decolonizing” and “collaboration” simply academic buzzwords in a feel-good decolonial academia, and essentially non-performative (Ahmed, 2006)? Can ethnomusicologists alone decolonize music studies? Should we focus more on working with other music specialists within academia? Or should we invest less into the institution and more into engagements and coalitions outside academia? What does forging relationships in terms of collaboration as an active political gesture imply within and beyond academic work? What does collaboration imply for decentring power relations, disrupting notions of objective knowledge, and the building of relationships? What are alternative modes of action and engagement?

Presenters in this ICTM Dialogues session discuss aims, challenges, misunderstandings, the discomfort of feel-good politics, blind spots, and the risk of empty concepts in relation to the questions above. Each session participant contributes a brief presentation on one aspect of collaboration based on our own experiences, projects, collectives, and discourses of collaboration. Cornelia Gruber speaks about intra-academic collaboration within a workshop series and collective of early-career scholars who are currently or were formerly involved in German-speaking (ethno)musicological institutions. Through her discussion of a collaboration with percussionist and composer Vernon Chatlein, Charissa Granger emphasizes the necessity of collaboration in ongoing attempts to make sense of Zikinza, a Curaçaoan ethnographic archive that holds songs and melodies sung by descendants of enslaved peoples. Marko Kölbl addresses ethnomusicological refugee studies, particularly ethnographic fieldwork and the coloniality of asylum that shapes collaborations in the field. Talia Bachir-Loopuyt discusses intra-academic collaborations and the need for ethnomusicologists to work with other specialists in order to enhance our understanding of coloniality. We then think through three key topics in a curated discussion, focusing on collaboration, coalition, and crossings in music and dance research. They are: ethnography, friendships and general relationships, and the futurity and longevity of decolonizing practices in relation to ongoing dialogues. These topics were developed through several weeks of continuous online group meetings prior to this ICTM Dialogues session. While we think that working together is a necessary and possible form of decolonizing, it remains vital to interrogate and reimagine our practices and premises regarding this subject.


Further References

Ahmed, Sara. 2006. “The Nonperformativity of Antiracism”. In Meridians 7 (1): 104-126.
Lugones, María. 2003. Pilgrimages / Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. Lanham: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group (Introduction and Ch. 4).
Olley, Jacob. 2016. “Towards a Global History of Music? Postcolonial Studies and Historical Musicology,” Ethnomusicology Review 22 (2). https://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/content/towards-global-history-music-postcolonial-studies-and-historical-musicology.
Picozza, Fiorenza. 2021. The Coloniality of Asylum: Mobility, Autonomy and Solidarity in the Wake of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Sperber, Dan. 2003. “Why Rethink Interdisciplinarity?” In Rethinking Interdisciplinarity (virtual seminar). https://www.dan.sperber.fr/?p=101.
Smith, Christen A. 2021. "An Introduction to Cite Black Women," Feminist Anthropology 2 (1): 6-9. 
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2021. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books Ltd.
Mackinley, Elizabeth. 2015. "Decolonization and Applied Ethnomusicology: Storying the Personal-Political-Possible in Our Work." In Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology, vol. 2, 379-397. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McKittrick, Katherine. 2021. Dear Science and Other Stories. Durham: Duke University Press.


Based on our collective reflections from the ICTM Dialogues, we ask ourselves how we can transgress many of the structural restraints within academia. In particular, how can we raise awareness about the many ontological and epistemological boundaries we expect and accept as a given? One of the ways to begin transgressing existing academic boundaries is to humanize knowledge and knowledge producers, such as the many collaborators within our academic practices and archival “material” we work. This involves radically rethinking “ownership,” “data” and, in the case of ethnomusicology, disinvesting from canonical ethnography.

We hope to continue our work in various spaces and continue our dialogues with activists, not in terms of “retrieving information” but in terms of learning from and with each other. We want to continue building spaces such as intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary workshops, especially with specialists from other academic fields (music historians, sociologists) as well as music and dance activists, and cultural agents.


Questions to Consider

What do radical reconsiderations of academic research and ethnographic practices look like – and how can we ensure that they inhabit decolonizing directions and anti-racist principles?

How can we bring the issue of decolonization to spaces where it is not yet being debated, or where it is not well understood due to variable geo-political positions and related power relations?

How can we use our access to funds, infrastructure, and power from within the university to humanize knowledge production beyond a strictly academic understanding thereof?

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