Friday, August 20, 2010




The winter one-day conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology will be held at The Institute of Musical Research, part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.  The theme for the day will be 'The Impact of Ethnomusicology'.

'Impact' is both a buzz-word and a bĂȘte noire in British higher education at present. Scholars in publicly-funded institutions are increasingly being asked to assess the influence of their research outside of the academy, and this applies just as much to ethnomusicologists employed in such institutions as to others.

Nevertheless, perhaps more than any other part of the music studies field, the public-facing nature of ethnomusicology, and its emphasis on participation and social experience, on understanding musical 'being-in-the-world' as Jeff Todd Titon puts it, has ensured that ethnomusicologists have usually been very mindful of their relationship to those around them, and of the consequences their work might have. Rather than simply responding to political imperatives, therefore, we instead want to use this conference to reflect on the consequences of our work, for good and for ill, in the wider world; and, building on a long disciplinary tradition of self scrutiny and re-invention, to consider what this tells us about ethnomusicology, and how it might help us position and develop the discipline in the rapidly changing times in which we find ourselves.

The following broadly-conceived questions that we might address are offered merely as starting points:

.     In what ways, and over what kinds of timescales, have ethnomusicologists
impacted on the people with whom they work, and the environments in which that work takes place? How might the impact of such work be evaluated or valorised beyond 'conventional' ethnomusicological outputs?
.     Is ethnomusicological impact usually positive-or at least benign-or are
there clear instances of negative consequences?  How might one construe the negative impact of ethnomusicology, and should such work necessarily be avoided?
.     How does the notion of impact overlap with disciplinary considerations
of applied ethnomusicology?
.     When does ethnomusicology become so applied - that is, in its
engagements with social issues or its advocacy on behalf of particular culture bearers - that it calls into question the boundaries of conventional scholarship and supposed scholarly distance?
.     To what extent should scholarly organisations such as BFE proactively
engage with organisations such as WOMAD or South Asian Arts, and what is the relationship between such engagements and other forms of research?
.     To what extent does the impact of ethnomusicology define the discipline,
or to what extent should it be allowed to do so?
.     Notwithstanding that current discourses around impact tend to focus on
social and cultural consequences outside of the academy, how has the development of ethnomusicology impacted upon the academy as a whole, or any of its constituent parts, particularly in areas far removed from cognate disciplines such as music or anthropology?

Potential contributors are invited to submit abstracts of up to 300 words to the administrator of the IMR, Valerie James, preferably via email (, or by post to:

Valerie James
Institute of Musical Research
School of Advanced Study
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

Queries relating to the theme of day or the BFE may be addressed to the conference convenor, Dr Stephen Cottrell (

The deadline for submissions is 1st September 2010, and contributors will be advised by mid September.

Further information on the conference will be uploaded on the BFE website as it becomes available:

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