What makes ethnicity matter?
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionKnudsen, J.S. (2008). European meetings in ethnomusicology, (12),191-203
What makes ethnicity matter? For most ethnomusicologists, as well as for the discipline as such, there is an underlying assumption that the cultivation of ethnic belonging is of fundamental importance for minority groups, and that this often is expressed through involvement in traditional music. The intention of my paper is to explore, question and challenge this notion. This will be done by juxtaposing two examples from field research: on the one hand, a group of Chilean immigrants who enthusiastically cultivate traditional music and dance, and on the other hand, Minoritet1: a group of young immigrants of various national backgrounds who engage in creating rap music commenting on their own minority experience. The paper discusses similarities and differences between these two cultural strategies which both elaborate on the minority experience through “necessary symbolic work”. My paper does not dwell on discussions of cultural specificity, but rather engages in more general theoretical material based on a multidimensional understanding of cultural strategies. Concepts employed will for example be cultural cohesion and cultural visibility, openness vs. closure”, catalytic vs. emblematic functions, and chosen vs. enforced activities. The theoretical thrust of my paper is especially inspired by writings of Ulf Hannerz, Fredrik Barth, Paul Willis and Thomas Hylland Eriksen. In conclusion, my paper asserts that creating a sense of belonging in many cases is of a particular importance for minority groups, but that manifestations and strategies of belonging may point in various different directions and can not necessarily be linked to a “raised ethnic awareness”. Finally, I intend to draw up some of the implications this complex picture has for the field of ethnomusicology, essentially challenging the discipline to widen its area of research interest.