Whatever you say I am, that’s what I’m not: developing dialogical and dissensual ways of conceiving of and talking about community music

Camlin, D. A. (2017) Whatever you say I am, that’s what I’m not: developing dialogical and dissensual ways of conceiving of and talking about community music. In: International Seminar of the ISME Commission on Community Music Activity, 19-23 July 2016, Edinburgh.


As a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), Community Music (CM) has traditionally voiced concern at the lack of consensus or agreement surrounding what constitutes CM practice (Brown, Higham, & Rimmer, 2014; Deane & Mullen, 2013; Higgins, 2012; Kelly, 1983; McKay & Higham, 2012). Rather than seeing this historical and traditional lack of consensus as a fundamental weakness of the community, I suggest that we might view the diversity of CM practice - and the dissensus surrounding such practice - as one of CM’s defining characteristics. We tell ourselves as a community that, even though the practices themselves are complex, fluid and emergent, we need conceptions of those same practices which are simple and fixed, so that those unfamiliar with the practices – in particular, funders - might grasp them more easily. However, I think that this is to do the diversity and complexity of the practices themselves a disservice. Rather than simpler conceptions of CM practice which reduce its great diversity, I believe we need more sophisticated ones which communicate its full richness. In this paper, I suggest that the related concepts of dissensus (Ranciere, 2003a) and dialogue (Bakhtin, 1981; Freire, 1970; Wegerif, 2012) may help to provide such a conceptual framework, which explains CM practice in simple terms as a “situational” (Hersey, 1997) response to the needs and aspirations of its participants, and its situations. In particular, I emphasise how a dialogic approach to CM can help integrate a wide variety of perspectives which might otherwise be considered dichotomous, including some of the ongoing debates around e.g. formal/informal; pedagogy/andragogy/ heutagogy; performance/participation; aesthetic/praxial; process/product; ethical/technical. By developing deeper insights into the nature of the dissensus and dialogue which underpins CM practice, I hope that - as a community - we might come to a better understanding of some of the pedagogical approaches which define such practice, and which might have significance for the wider music education sector, in terms of developing stronger and more effective learner-centred and individualised approaches to music teaching-learning situations (Elliott, 1995, p. 241). **** This paper is available open access as part of the conference proceedings document at the 'Official URL' below. ****

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