Reverse Ethnomusicology: Migrant musicians as researchers

A research project at MMRC, funded by the FWF Austrian Science Fund, in cooperation with the Phonogrammarchiv (Austrian Academy of Sciences)


Brief description:

The starting point of the research project "Reverse Ethnomusicology: Migrant Musicians as Researchers" is the hypothesis that migrant musicians automatically study musical worlds that are (partially) "foreign" or unknown to them when they arrive in a new place. In order to find (musical) orientation in the new environment and potentially gain a foothold, they have to ask similar questions that ethnomusicologists do in field research: What musics are there? Where are they played? Who are the central figures in the musical field? For whom is the music performed? Which music-related events take place (regularly)? Which media platforms play a role in relation to current musical activities? How do musicians and the audience act at concerts? How can one make money from music? Thereby, the musicians develop relevant and productive knowledge about musical and music-related practices, institutions and networks in Austria based on their previous experiences in musical contexts.

This project aims at recognizing this knowledge production by musicians who have migrated to Austria as such, at making this otherwise hardly considered or even ignored knowledge visible and accessible, and at consciously furthering and deepening this knowledge production within the framework of the project. "Reverse Ethnomusicology" tests new methodological approaches and questions common power relations in scholarly knowledge production. While it is commonly music researchers from a privileged position who research music that is (partially) unknown to them, thereby othering it, this methodological setting of citizen music ethnography reverses the previously dominant perspective situationally: How do migrant musicians observe and interpret musical practices in Austria after their arrival?

The project team consists of six musician-researchers who have migrated to Austria between 2016 and 2020, who are continuing, or want to continue their musical practice here, and four formally trained researchers (two principal investigators, one post-doc researcher, and one student assistant). In collaboration with the formally trained researchers, the musician-researchers engage in structured research on a self-selected musical practice in Austria, which is interesting and "foreign" or "different" to them in certain aspects, thereby observing, interpreting, and analyzing it further in order to deepen their knowledge of their chosen topic. In the course of several joint workshops, the project team creates spaces to collectively reflect and discuss experiences, results, and questions, and to develop communication strategies in order to make their work visible to others. Furthermore, this project framework expands and redefines the role of the formally trained ethnomusicologists as they do not act as the sole producers of knowledge, but rather as facilitators of knowledge production in the sense of an engaged pedagogy. In addition, they critically engage with the method and concept of citizen music ethnography, meaning that people do research whose knowledge production is otherwise not framed as "academic" (citizen science), throughout the project. The musicians receive a monthly allowance for their work on the project.


Principal investigators: Dr. Anja Brunner (Department for Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology/MMRC, mdw), Dr. Cornelia Gruber (Phonogrammarchiv, ÖAW)
Researchers: Valeska Andrea Díaz Soto (2023-2024), Petzi Beneš, Lis Vovka
Project duration: 04/2023–09/2025
Funding: FWF – Austrian Science Fund, 1000-Ideas-Program,
Grant-DOI 10.55776/TAI724