Ethical dimensions in ethnomusicology for policy

Simon McKerrell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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Historically, ethnomusicology was rarely implicated in public policy because its interests have always been anthropologically located in the local and relativist view of musical cultures around the world. Increasingly however in the twenty-first century, ethnomusicologists are both seeking, and being sought out, for the insight and ethnographic expertise that they can bring to public policy in contemporary society. Today, ethnomusicologists work directly and indirectly on policy research in areas such as cultural heritage, the environment, social and inter-ethnic conflict, intercultural communication, migration and refugees, health, recidivism, education, sectarianism, and community cohesion.

Policy in this chapter is broadly conceived as the framework of underlying principles that support action. Through reference to examples from my own work in policy formation in Scotland, I reflect on the ethics of fieldwork for policy in multi-disciplinary settings that can involve discussion of sensitive and challenging areas where government(s) wish to improve the lives of their citizens. There are therefore ethical dimensions in policy fieldwork that go well beyond the typical considerations of reflexivity, anonymization, or approach. Fieldwork relating to policy mounts particular, and sometimes substantive, ethical issues for the ethnomusicologist that can pose ethical, epistemological, and sometimes legal challenges to the researcher. The chapter deals with some of these challenges and how these have been approached in response to standard policy concerns such as sample bias and selection, fieldworker safety, criminality, copyright, and the critical area of generalizability which has largely been anathema to the relativist foundations of the discipline but is critical to policy makers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Ethics and Research in Ethnomusicology
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781003043904
ISBN (Print)9780367490034
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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