32. Music in ethnography: looking in the mirror at ethnography of music

Micol Pizzolati, University of Bergamo, micol.pizzolati@unibg.it

Music is an under-explored yet potentially extremely interesting arts-based form for reflection, elicitation and representation in qualitative inquiry (Butler-Kisber 2018) due to the particular links music has with our feelings and memory. Like photos and objects, pieces of music may have particular stories attached to them and represent aspects of people’s identities; in this manner, the act of listening could represent a specific form of affective and sensory experience in qualitative research. The use of music in social research methodologies can be viewed less as an experiment and more as a realisation; music-based approaches to research can help researchers to approach, enlighten, describe and explicate that which is often rendered invisible by other research practices (Leavy 2015). In (auto)ethnography and qualitative research contexts, music can trigger witnesses to re-enact and to (re)think forgotten or overlooked events, people, situations or gestures, or consider such aspects from a new perspective.

Music is innately social, and although it is only now emerging as a part of arts-based research practices across the disciplines, it has long played a role in social research. Interest in music sociology has increased dramatically over the past two decades, leading to a flourishing of ethnography (DeNora 2000), especially on the relationships between music and gender, place, globalisation, everyday life and its spaces and embodiment processes. The study of music in society has been characterised, over time, by productive exchanges and the synthesis of ideas and methods, the attention turning to the music itself; its creation and consumption (Shepherd, Devine 2015). The field has expanded to other disciplines, i.e. contributions from music, folklore and history scholars whose interests have extended to the sociology of music. Moreover, there is growing interest in music as a social technology and increasing insights from science and technology studies.

The panel aims to put music as an arts-based method for qualitative social research in dialogue with ethnographies of music – i.e. music as an instrument of social work, music fandom, music in everyday life, music in the community – therefore inviting the exploration of the implications and entanglements of dimensions such as memories, affectivities and identities. Papers and other creative contributions which address the following open questions are invited: 

  • How does music in ethnography contribute to gaining valuable insights and valorising non-invasive, collaborative and participatory work, including touching audiences who are hard to reach due to distance, language barriers or disinformation?
  • How do time, ethics and encounters function in digital and/or hybrid and/or physical fieldwork on music either as commodity, ideological text or resistive tools, or as integral components of cultural rituals and daily social life?
  • How is the ethnography of and with music enhanced through the development of archives, databases, complex and resource-heavy websites, information, and media?

Contributions that consider and experiment with new forms of knowledge exchange and creative practices of communicating research, i.e. material and virtual archives, and sound and musical expositions, are particularly welcome.


  • (Auto)ethnography of and through music 
  • Digital and arts-based dissemination methodologies
  • Elicitation beyond the visual senses
  • Emotional evocation of music
  • Material and symbolic aspects of music
  • Music as a locus of hybridity

The panel intends to foster dialogue and encounters between actors across different academic disciplines, such as Art and Media Studies; Arts-based Research; Popular Music Studies; Sociolinguistic; Sociology of Culture; and Sociomusicology – and possibly from extra-academic fields as well.

An advanced draft version of the contribution will be requested by the end of May 2023, with the intention of formulating a proposal for a Journal Special Issue/Edited Collection.

Butler-Kisber L. (2018), Qualitative Inquiry: Thematic, Narrative and Arts-based Perspectives, London, Sage
DeNora T. (2000), Music in everyday life, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Leavy P. (2015), Method Meets Art: Arts- Based Research Practice, II ed., New York, Guilford
Shepherd J., K. Devine (2015) (eds), The Routledge reader on the sociology of music, London, Routledge

Short Bio
Micol Pizzolati is an Associate Professor in Sociology at the Department of Letters, Philosophy, Communication, University of Bergamo. She focuses her research on topics such as narratives of ageing and care; and the representation and lived-experience of social stratification. She works on and with creative participatory methods for qualitative research, particularly arts and objects-based techniques, and on the involvement of non-academic audiences. In 2021, she co-founded the Creative Methods Open Lab which organises meetings, workshops and research networks on arts-based, performative, and collaborative methodologies.


Interest in participating in the call for papers will be generated, for example, within the following networks:

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