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News & Topics
October 6, 2015

MOMRI Research Fellow Speaks on Music and Peacebuilding at Conference of the European Peace Research Association (EuPRA)

UiT - The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Sept. 2-4, 2015


Report by Craig Robertson, Sept. 10, 2015

Tromsø, far above the Arctic Circle in Norway, is probably the most cosmopolitan Arctic town in the world. It is a wonderfully stark place, framed by mountains and sea and, while I was there, covered continuously by a mysterious layer of cloud. Grey has never looked so beautiful. It boasts being the home to the most northern university, most northern orchestra and most northern cathedral in the world. It is also home to Norway’s Centre for Peace Studies, which was founded in 2002, inspired by the work of Johan Galtung, the founder of European peace and conflict studies. It is this connection that brought EuPRA here for their annual conference in 2015. This report will give a little background to EuPRA and the conference itself, followed by detailing my own involvement and opinions of how things went. I will then give a short analysis of the breadth of presentations given during the course of the conference and, finally, I will share some conclusions about the conference and organization as a whole and suggest how MOMRI has the potential to spearhead a future partnership with EuPRA and increase the involvement of music and the arts in their planning and execution of future events.


The European Peace Research Association is one of five regional organizations under the informal umbrella of the International Peace Research Association. Their stated purpose is “to advance interdisciplinary research into the causes of war and conditions of peace.” It was formed in 1990 and continues to advance debate and knowledge in peace research within Europe. Tromsø marks the ninth conference held so far, with the title “The Framing of Europe: Peace Perspectives on Europe’s Future.”


The conference introductory material details some of the problems and issues that the organizers believe face Europe today, including the risk of a new Cold War, the Ukrainian/Russian situation, Grexit, terrorism, refugees from Syria and Kurdistan (and many other places), increased authoritarianism, austerity, arms industry complex and the very identity of Europe. The questions proposed by EuPRA for this conference have focused largely on armaments, refugees versus economic crises, human rights versus human security, sustainable development, good governance and climate issues. There was a list of 26 suggested topics to address these questions, with the arts being one of them. What can be seen straight away is a general marginalization of arts-based peace research and lack of proper engagement with the field as a whole, despite the current president being both supportive and active in arts-based international relations and peace research. I will explore this issue later in this report.


My presentation was entitled “Musicological Ethnography and Peacebuilding.” I have included my abstract here:


Musicological Ethnography and Peacebuilding

Based on my PhD research with an inter-religious choir in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, this paper discusses my interdisciplinary methodologies and suggests how this approach might be applied to future peacebuilding efforts. The use of ethnographic methods in research is an attempt to gain an understanding of a social scene as close to that of the social actors within that scene as possible. Normally, the data collected is linguistic in nature, although the visual and gestural, embodied data is increasingly included. There is very little consideration of the aural in this form of research. Even when the audio is considered, it is often described in written language rather than considered to be data in and of itself, thereby creating a translation issue. In my own research in Sarajevo, I have made the case for sound and music as ethnographic data (Robertson 2014), since it is a means of experiencing and expressing tacit cultural understanding within and without a particular social group. This paper examines the commonalities between this approach and the peacebuilding strategies of Lederach et al ( and proposes how musicological ethnography might be useful as a tool for increased intercultural understanding in peacebuilding activities.


As is usually the case at peace research conferences, I was part of the Arts and Peace panel. I have asked organizers in the past about including me and/or us in the other panels because I believed, and still do, that we are preaching to the converted; I see a number of the same faces and we say the same things to the same people, we all nod in agreement, and then nothing ever comes of it. Also, the audience numbers tend to be rather low for the arts and peace talks. This was certainly the case this time. My talk was well received, but the audience consisted of the other arts presenters and three masters students. One of the latter, however, is doing her dissertation on musical conflict prevention strategies in communities in Ghana. She is going to send me her proposal for some advice. This will also enable me to further populate the MOMRI database of global music and peacebuilding activities.


One other presenter and a senior EuPRA organizer both later mentioned my presentation, picking it out as a very good example of how the arts might be better represented in EuPRA and IPRA. I was told that my presentation was the best example of combining the artistic/aesthetic realm with that of social research, and that this was needed to expand the arts in peace research effectively. We discussed the fact that nearly 10% of the presentations at the conference had something to do with the arts, yet of the 13 keynote speeches, there were no references to any art forms. It was suggested by a few other presenters that the arts should be represented in a keynote at the next conference and that they thought I was probably the best candidate to do so.


The Tromsø University music department even heard about the conference and decided to hold a “peace concert.” The program for the event, held in the cathedral, mentioned that the inspiration for the concert was reading that the peace conference included an Arts and Peace strand and included music itself. It was unclear how this translated into the actual programming or execution of the concert itself. The program consisted of mainly Norwegian composers and a mass by Shubert. The music was lovely and very well-performed, but it had very little relevance to the conference. No music department member was present at any of the arts talks, and no one talked to me, as the only presenter of music and peacebuilding. Unfortunately, it was yet another example of musicians, especially western conservatory musicians, loosely associating themselves with a concept and not engaging with any implications other than the musical material itself. It was enjoyable, nonetheless.


I had a brief discussion with some of the organizers about the future of music and the arts in the organization. The next EuPRA is due to be held in Germany, but it was suggested that the one after that might be held in the UK and, if so, would I be interested in organizing it. The other suggestion for me was to rekindle a relationship with the Peace Studies department in Bradford. Seeing whereas I live next door to Bradford, and Olivier Urbain is an alumni of the Peace Studies department there, I believe that MOMRI can play a role in shaping the agenda for the 2019 EuPRA conference.


Textual Analysis of Abstracts


Not surprisingly, the two topics that were discussed far more than any others at the conference were peace and conflict. The vast majority of the discussions about peace were about peace as a concept, with only a handful discussing peace research itself as an activity. Again, unsurprisingly, most of the conflicts mentioned were around the Arctic, whether it was relations with Russia or general climate issues. Most of the rest dealt with actual violence, both current (Ukraine) and past (Northern Ireland and Bosnia). There was very little discussion and presentation of actual data, and most of that was visual. There were a few discussions about understanding as a strategy and goal in peacebuilding, with about half of those focusing on intercultural understanding. The arts were mentioned a number of times, usually in passing, yet these were never mentioned in any of the keynotes. When the arts were mentioned, the vast majority dealt with visual art, followed by literature, poetry and then music and ballet. There was no mention of other art forms like sculpture or theater.




There were far more discussions about various other fields and how they relate to peace than there were presentations about researching peace itself. Conflict discussions were targeted and relevant to the current time and place, which implies that most presenters made a conscious effort to be up to date and were well-informed. The lack of actual data was slightly worrying. Having discussed this with some other colleagues, I am sure the data exists, it just was not presented. A publication or website containing the data would be very useful. It also highlights a general issue with the conference format of 15-20 minutes followed by a group debate. Alternatives should be considered. The analysis clearly shows that even within the marginalized arts and peace field, music is considered far less frequently. This is indicative of how many feel uncomfortable discussing music when they do not understand it yet they do feel comfortable discussing visual or written arts. This falls in line with previous research in this area that shows that, in the modern Western world at least, society values the primacy of the visual and, since all presenters were using language to present their work, they felt comfortable discussing other more artistic forms of language. Most were not comfortable discussing music in its abstract form, except to discuss lyrics.


I will continue my discussions with the master’s student about her music and peacebuilding project. I will also continue my conversations with the organizers of EuPRA. In particular, I will attempt to engage the Bradford Peace Studies program and think about how MOMRI can help shape the agenda for the EuPRA 2019 conference.