Un/Learning: Norms and Routines in Cultural Practice

“If I assume that unlearning is already built into the process of learning in this country. As are elite preservation and intellectual feudalism. Then working through the culture of learning here must not speak of “unlearning”, but of delearning [Entlernen]. A process of leaving behind [des Zurücklassens] describes itself with the German prefix ent. Leaving a room [Das Verlassen eines Raumes] suggests itself. To escape [Entkommen] would be a possible synonym.” Marlene Streeruwitz1

The international and interdisciplinary summer conference isaScience 2022 will take place from 31 August to 4 September 2022 both at Hotel Marienhof in Reichenau an der Rax and online. In keeping with this year’s motto of isa – the International Summer Academy of the mdw, “ALWAYS ANEW”, this year features a number of changes.

First of all, let’s introduce the new academic board: Andrea Glauser from the Department of Cultural Management and Gender Studies (IKM) and Stephanie Probst from the Department of Musicology and Performance Studies, together with Marko Kölbl from the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology, are responsible for this year’s conference programme. Another new aspect is the date of the conference: for the first time, isaScience will be taking place right after isa, making it easier for members of the mdw community in particular to attend at the end of the summer break and outside the main holiday period.

In terms of content, the new academic board has chosen the theme “Un/Learning: Norms and Routines in Cultural Practice” in response to the isa theme “ALWAYS ANEW”. Here, the focus is on a broad discourse pertaining to learning, unlearning, and de-learning cultural practices—which can include artistic practices of rehearsing, interpreting, and performing music as well as other forms of artistic expression. How do social norms and routines determine our learning

and agency, be they the specifically artistic learning involved in practising, playing, and performing or individual and collective actions in the context of an increasingly economised knowledge culture? Norms and routines tend to perpetuate hegemonic structures and power relations as well as to classify groups and individuals within confined identities. Through the lens of “un/learning”, isaScience 2022 invites you to critically examine these dynamics and the potential for change.

In emancipatory and decolonising discourses, scholars and cultural practitioners alike have recently highlighted un/learning as a basis for possible change. The potential of un/learning also applies to the renewal of critical frameworks in scholarship, as becomes apparent in recent research on cultural practices. Challenging the colonial, racist, and gendered logics of disciplines like ethnomusicology, music theory, and music history entails more than conventional canon critique. Since this shakes the foundations of music research itself, radical reinventions of disciplinary fields, epistemological traditions, and scholarly rankings are called for. But how exactly might these be achieved? What strategies, techniques, and technologies might help facilitate these processes?

Such considerations are also relevant to artistic practice. Western classical art music, for example, depends on normative standards of musical excellence as well as class-based, Eurocentric, and racialised expectations of personas and performance practices. To what would un- and de-learning these habitual codes lead? Furthermore, globally circulating forms of popular music often sell an ostensibly sociocritical image while at the same time adhering to the logic of economic marketability. What are the dialectics between economic norming and the non-normative in, for example, popular music? Another question concerns the influence of normative habits on the design of (musical) instruments and technologies. How does the (material) infrastructure of the performing arts determine inclusion and exclusion in cultural participation?

The disruption or disturbance of routines plays an essential role not least in public space artistic interventions: these aim to make visible prevailing norms, to question knowledge incorporated through routines, and hence to provoke social change. Beyond the focus on artistic practices, then, this conference also sheds light on the broader dynamics of un/learning in social and cultural relations. Across the world, cultural practices are measured according to Eurocentric norms – often unmarked and seemingly universal. How do the routines of the Global North foster implicit norms and dictate the logics and aesthetics of cultural interaction? And how might un/learning contribute to decentering or Provincializing Europe (Chakrabarty 2000)?

These questions, which can be considered quite urgent in view of numerous and ongoing crises, are soon to be explored at isaScience 2022. Participation is open to all interested persons, and the isaScience team is looking forward to stimulating and critical exchange between mdw researchers and the international research community!


31 August – 4 September 2022
Registration open until 31 July 2022 (for on-site participation) or until 31 August 2022 (online participation only)

  1. Quoted from her lecture “Ver. Um. Er. Und lernen.” at the international symposium entitled „UNLEARNING – Praktiken und Begegnungen des Verlernens“ held in St. Pölten during February 2022. Translation by K.F./C.R. http://www.marlenestreeruwitz.at/werk/ver-um-er-und-lernen/#0
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