Pedagogical encounters in music Thinking with Hannah Arendt

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Cecilia Ferm Almqvist
Cathy Benedict
Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos


This paper employs aspects of Hannah Arendt’s thought to explore different but interrelated questions that haunt contemporary music education. We see the importance of a return to Arendt now more than ever as we find ourselves, three authors in three different countries, trying to contribute to democratic music education practices and to researching the conceptual base of such practices, in countries where technocratic approaches to policy development prevail. More specifically in this article we address the following questions: how can we re-think the political and creative dimensions of music education pedagogies in the face of recent educational policy trends? How can we go beyond linearity in our everyday educational encounters? How can we create forms of music education practice and research that induce a continuous interplay between acting and thinking? We pursue these questions through reference to three specific forms of music education practice: research seminars for PhD-students and senior researchers, pre-service music teacher education, and teaching music improvisation. In the first part of the paper, Cecilia Ferm-Almqvist elaborates upon how Hannah Arendt’s thinking influences our teaching, taking an on-going research seminar in music education as an example of a common place. In the second part, Cathy Benedict writes of ‘meeting’ Arendt and coming to an awareness of how Arendt can help us interrogate practices we have come to assume as ‘the right ones’. Seeking to create together with her students an epistemological space of appearance she challenges common teaching strategies that seem to ‘work’. Working within a teacher preparation program she comes to realize that students must also reflect on these moments so as to name what has occurred; thus they need to engage in acts of performative listening, setting aside their own desire and need to speak and be heard first. Finally, in the third part, Panagiotis (Panos) A. Kanellopoulos raises the complex issue of how we should respond to the current deluge of entrepreneurial approaches to creativity, its use value, and its role in education. Based on the proposition that acts of musical improvisation belong to the realm of action, Kanellopoulos revisits Arendt’s notion of conservatism with the aim of outlining a possible way through which contemporary improvisation pedagogy might be re-thought. Taken together these three sets of reflections serve to offer a framing of Arendt’s thinking for music educators in different contexts, showing how Arendt's ideas might serve as a fertile ground for thinking over our own teaching, our curricular decisions, and the choices we daily make over space and time that connect us through our distinctness.

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Author Biographies

Cecilia Ferm Almqvist, Luleå University of Technology

Cecilia Ferm Almqvist is a Full Professor of music education at Luleå University of Technology Sweden, where she graduated in 2004 on a phenomenological thesis about teaching and learning interaction in music classrooms. Her philosophical and empirical research focuses upon democracy and inclusion in diverse music educational settings, as for example music teacher education, assessment situations in the music classroom, and special educational contexts. She has presented her work internationally at several music educational conferences and in well-known scientific journals such as RSME, PMER, BJME, IJME, VRME, and Reconstruction.

Cathy Benedict, the Don Wright Faculty of Music, University of Western Ontario.

Cathy Benedict is Director of Research for the Don Wright Faculty of Music, University of Western Ontario. As a professor of music education, she has presented multiple workshops to national/international audiences on topics such as elementary pedagogy, discourse analysis, philosophical interrogations of pedagogy and curriculum, ethics of functional literacy, and the representation of reality. She has written numerous chapters and published in journals such as Canadian Music Educator, Philosophy of Music Education Review, Music Education Research, and Research Studies in Music Education, co-edited the journal Theory Into Practice, and most recently co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Social Justice and Music Education (Oxford University Press).

Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos, University of Thessaly, Greece.

Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos is Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Thessaly, Greece. His research interests include sociocultural perspectives on musical creativity, ethnographic approaches to musical improvisation, as well as possible conjunctures between philosophy of music education and political philosophy. His work has been published in international edited volumes (e.g. The Oxford Handbook for Social Justice in Music Education, OUP 2015), and major research journals (including Psychology of Music, Philosophy of Music Education Review, Action Criticism & Theory for Music Education, British Journal of Music Education, Educational Philosophy & Theory). He is active as a mandolinist, performing and recording in a variety of contexts.