Learning cultures and the conservatoire: an ethnographically-informed case study

Perkins, R. (2013) Learning cultures and the conservatoire: an ethnographically-informed case study. Music Education Research, 15 (2). pp. 196-213. ISSN 1461-3808 (print) 1469-9893 (online)


As educational institutions, conservatoires remain largely unresearched and, crucially, relatively unchallenged. In particular, research has paid little attention to in-depth studies of culture, so that not enough is known of the cultural practices that characterise and shape a conservatoire education. This article addresses this gap through seeking to understand the constructed nature of the ‘learning cultures’ – the cultural practices through which students learn – of a UK conservatoire. Working within an ethnographically-informed case study, multiple qualitative methods were employed to collect in-depth data. Key findings from a four-phased analysis procedure reveal that the conservatoire's learning cultures are constructed across four intertwined features: (1) learning cultures of performing specialism, (2) learning cultures of social networking, (3) learning cultures of musical hierarchies and (4) learning cultures of vocational position taking. Implications of the study are discussed, and recommendations made for the introduction of creative and reflective spaces for learning in the conservatoires of the future.

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