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Musical borderness: Contesting spaces through cultural engagement

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Across European nations, the binary distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has been reinforced by right-wing populists seeking to frame global mass migration waves as the backdrop against which increased social fragmentation can be explained. While persisting resentments and continuing ethnicization of different social groups amplify hatred towards migrants, refugees and people of colour, many artistic and cultural institutions have taken a stand against such discriminatory rhetoric, trying to use their programmes as gateways to imagine new forms of solidarity and possibilities of organizing living with difference. This account focuses on developments in the city of Dresden, Germany, one of the hotspots for understanding the impact of racist and right-wing extremist legacies on contemporary responses to migration into Europe. Following the influx of refugees in 2015, Dresden became the centre of right-wing extremist protest, but also a focal point of its resistance in the arts and cultural institutions. In theatre and music, people have organized protests, founded community groups and established recurring programmes that focus on pivotal issues of belonging, citizenship, gender and home to reframe the social imaginary of what life with people of different backgrounds would look like in the city. This article draws on ethnographic work with three music initiatives in the city whose work centres on issues of ‘borders’ to show how ‘borderness’, a term used by social anthropologist Sarah Green to describe the sense of border, is experienced through and lived in music, educational practice and political activism. Findings show that collaborations between resident and refugee musicians resulted in narrations of border-experiences and transformed music repertoire. Spaces of music-making could become cultural borderlands themselves. Projects engaged in dismantling ‘the everyday construction of borders through ideology, cultural mediation, discourses, political institutions, attitudes and everyday forms of transnationalism […] that create and recreate new social-cultural boundaries and borders’ (Yuval-Davis et al. 2018: 229) in music education, which yielded a transcultural dialogue in the classroom in politically heated neighbourhoods. Theatre projects addressed gender-specific needs that provided women with opportunities to participate.
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Keywords: borderness; culture; education; migration; music; transcultural engagement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000122857943Ohio State University

Publication date: October 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • The course of cultures at both local and global levels is crucially affected by migratory movements. In turn, culture itself is turned migrant. This journal will advance the study of the plethora of cultural texts on migration produced by an increasing number of cultural practitioners across the globe who tackle questions of culture in the context of migration. They do this in a variety of ways and through a variety of media. To name but a few relevant aspects of this juncture of migration and culture, questions of dislocation, travel, borders, diasporic identities, transnational contacts and cultures, cultural memory, the transmission of identity across generations, questions of hybridity and cultural difference, the material and oral histories of migration and the role of new technologies in bridging cultures and fostering cultural cross-pollination will all be relevant. Methodologies of research will include both the study of 'texts' and fieldwork.
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