Joint Meeting of the ICTM Study Groups “Music and Minorities” and “Music and Gender”

Within the ICTM, the International Council for Traditional Music (, which is the world’s largest international organisation devoted to ethnomusicology, “study groups” are smaller, thematically related organisational units. These study groups lead their own lives, lives that are sometimes highly active and sometimes less so. Conferences are held at different locations across the world every two years. Twenty years ago, I joined forces with Svanibor Pettan (Slovenia) to found such a group: the Study Group on Music and Minorities. It has since grown to include around 250 members and can be considered quite a success, insofar as the topic of minorities has now become central to the international ethnomusicological discourse.

©IVE Yoder

Ethnomusicology deals with music in social contexts as well as with its use by and significance to communities and individuals. This field of research encompasses all of our world’s musics—North Indian art music just as much as the music of the Burgenland Croats. The most important method with which ethnomusicology works is research done in the field, which forms the basis for empirically derived findings. Such fieldwork, which is either documentary or explorative in nature, involves the creation of audio and video documents. Their interpretation makes it possible to observe musical cultures in a comprehensive manner.

All of the members of the Study Group on Music and Minorities are individuals who have made a conscious decision to deal with marginalised groups within the context of this research discipline. In doing so, however, it is important to constantly strive for a consensus on just how “minority” is defined. For this reason, the definition of “minority” as a concept has been a central theme of discussion since this group’s founding. The definition currently agreed upon is as follows: “Minorities are groups of people distinguishable from the dominant group for cultural, ethnic, social, religious, or economic reasons”. (

At this year’s symposium (23–30 July 2018), this definition is once again up for discussion—and it does seem like it will end up being reformulated. In the opinion of numerous members, explicit mention should be made above all of indigenous and migrant groups as well as people with disabilities and the LGBTQI+ community—all groups that have repeatedly been focussed on by presentations given as part of the study group’s activities. It is frequently about power relations and about the relationship with the majority, the dominant society. Such research is frequently linked with social activism, and international networking is essential, since the differing political conditions in various regions of the world also entail widely varying conditions for minorities. The ICTM offers the ideal framework for international exchange, and symposia such as the abovementioned represent an important means of ensuring successful scholarly cooperation. At this year’s symposium in Vienna, the Study Group on Music and Minorities joined forces with another ICTM study group that has a social agenda: the Study Group on Music and Gender. The commonalities between the two groups resulted in symposium features including an entire block of shared themes that involved both aspects—gender and minorities (for a detailed programme, please see

Lively, at times controversy-laden discussions as well as personal exchange helped to open up new realms of thought and explore new forms of cooperation. And this symposium thus concluded quite successfully, with facts and figures that speak for themselves: 70 active participants (lecturers and chairs) plus around 60 auditors from 39 counties and six continents. This is remarkable even for an ICTM event and speaks to the attractiveness of the topics and of the event location. And indeed, the symposia held at the mdw’s Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology (IVE) have quite generally built up a reputation within the worldwide ethnomusicological community for being outstandingly organised as well as enjoyable, and the attractions offered by the city of Vienna provide all the more encouragement to attend.

An important starting point for international research on minorities in ethnomusicology was the IVE’s own minorities specialisation. It arose in 1990 due to the FWF-sponsored research projects on the Romani people and the Burgenland Croats and increasingly began orienting itself toward politically sensitive topics. In particular the research on the Romani people was a driving force behind international networking, first because I was all alone with this theme in Austrian ethnomusicology, and second because the Romani people live all over the world as a minority. As time went by, the minorities specialisation was adapted to address political events as they occurred: the music of Bosnian refugees became a topic when around 100,000 Bosnian refugees sought a new home as a consequence of the civil war in former Yugoslavia, and the Styrian Slovenes came into focus when they campaigned for recognition as a minority. These projects already involved members of the two studied groups as researchers, a feature that has remained a fundamental principle of such work to this day. The addition of urban environments as a new context of research in 2003 made necessary a number of new definitions of questions and methods, all of which amounted to a significant advance for the field. And from 2016, there arose projects on Musical Identities Among Young Refugees, which have by now coalesced into a focus on Music from Afghanistan and need to be viewed before the backdrop of the current xenophobic and Islamophobic political debates. The general theoretical foundations have seen further development, and both gender studies and post-colonial studies have become more influential as topics, as have the discourses on transculturality.

The mdw’s university-level “Transculturality” emphasis was inspired by the minorities focus, but the overall discourse on transculturality is in fact far broader where educational policy is concerned—and its advancement has been served for over four years now in the form of an interdisciplinary lecture series featuring international researchers and artists. A publication that presents outcomes of this discourse will be introduced to the public on 7 November (see event tip).

Research on minorities in its modern form will continue to be attached to the field of ethnomusicology at the mdw, even if significant interdisciplinary impulses have been contributed to it by the recent emphasis on transculturality. And thanks to the ICTM Symposium, this research has now been provided with further impulses that serve the further development of this topic and can also be put to use in university policy and social policy.


Event tip

Wed, 7 November 2018, 5.00 pm

Transkulturelle Erkundungen
Wissenschaftlich-künstlerische Perspektiven
Book presentation with research and artistic contributions

Joseph Haydn Hall
Anton-von-Webern-Platz 1, 1030 Vienna

Find more details in our event calendar (in German)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *