In the process of becoming: an ethnographic case study of the development of community music practice in Hong Kong

Lam, C. Y. (2023) In the process of becoming: an ethnographic case study of the development of community music practice in Hong Kong. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


The colonial background and political situation of Hong Kong have resulted in school music education in Hong Kong being placed in a problematic position, which in turn has increased the acceptance of community music (CM) practice. However, as an academic subject, Hong Kong CM practice has largely adopted vocabulary, concepts, and frameworks from Western academia, and a more specific and nuanced cultural understanding of the significance of CM development in Hong Kong is thus necessary. To that end, a case study of five local music practitioners who work both in and beyond school settings was conducted, with data collection methods including interviews, participant observation, field notes, journals, and other documentation. The research draws theoretical support from the perspectives of both Paulo Freire and Gert Biesta and adopts a neoliberal view of education as an ‘orthodoxy’ and contrast it with CM practice as an emancipatory ‘heterodoxy’. Through articulating their practice, the study concludes practitioners’ practice is a practice of the ‘other’ (Lingis, 1994, p.10). It can be characterized as a ‘community of those who have nothing in common’ (Biesta. 2004). Their practice is situated in a ‘dialogic continuum’ which facilitates discourse among different groups and parties, which is conducted over a ‘dialogic space’ which exists over the dialogue among these practitioners over their very differences (Camlin, 2016), and a specific model had been designed to visualise and capture this unique symbiosis of these continua of CM practice. Interestingly, this lack of consensus over the very meaning of CM and defining features of CM practice may appear like a weakness at first, but on deeper reflection it is also a source of its richness and diversity. CM practice demonstrates an ongoing process of conscientization (Freire, 1970) that allows practitioners to resist falling into a uniform stereotype and instead better assert their authentic selves on their individual terms while being part of a greater community with a shared purpose. The unique, singular, and highly situated circumstances of individual CM practices result inevitably in the inability for this thesis to be able to provide a uniform description of CM practice but instead introduces the reader to a highly varied landscape of CM practice development in Hong Kong. However, despite this dissensus which is a feature of CM practice, I propose that the raising of critical consciousness implicated in the development of CM in Hong Kong will help those involved to become more aware of the inherent social and political contradictions and shall further support them to act to bring about desirable changes in the local education system. The study also extends previous scholarly research by highlighting the pluralistic character of CM practice and articulating it within the context of Hong Kong. It illustrates the value of accounting for CM practice with more holistic consideration of the cultural significance of music education, especially in socio-political contexts where orthodoxy is contested. To conclude, CM practice extends the possibilities of ‘becoming’ in ways that keep the possibilities of autonomy alive. It therefore illuminates the strong synergy between CM practice and the current social and political crisis in Hong Kong. It can also represent epistemological shifts within communities and societies, where the act of musicking itself becomes a way to disrupt orthodox practice and lead to the practice’s transformation.

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