On­line event: Pub­lic de­fence of the doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion of Katja Thomson

Title of the dissertation: Reciprocal Integration in a Musical Thirdspace: An Ethnographic Study with Refugee Musicians and Higher Music Education Students

Opponent: prof. Sidsel Karlsen
Examiners of the dissertation: prof. Sidsel Karlsen, prof. Eva Sæther 
Chair: Prof. Heidi Westerlund 


Opening of the Public Defense 
Lectio praecursoria 
Statement of the Opponent 
Examination of the Dissertation 
Closing Statement of the Opponent 
Closing of the Public Defense 


This doctoral dissertation addresses the need for European societies, and therefore higher music education to develop responses to the challenges of living with difference as recent political instabilities and conflicts around the world have drastically increased migration, including forced displacement. The dissertation examines the potential for higher music education to enable reciprocal integration through creating musical spaces involving musicians with a refugee or immigrant background and higher music education students and teachers, enhancing the participation of refugees in the receiving society. 

The research task was realized through an open-access music ensemble called World In Motion (WIM) instigated and led by the researcher. The empirical material of the inquiry was generated over a period of eighteen months, during which time participants from different parts of the Middle East and Europe, students from the Sibelius Academy (SibA) and the researcher composed and arranged music collaboratively. As an institutional response to the resettlement of refugees, WIM ensemble is perceived as a social innovation and conceptualized as a musical thirdspace following urban theorist, Edward Soja. The trialectics of space refers to the interplay between 1) the real, physical spaces where the ensemble collaboration takes place, 2) the ideational, explorative music making processes, and 3) the social consequences of the ensemble practices. Homi Bhabha’s conceptualization of thirdspace offers a further frame for the musical negotiations and processes of individual and collective identification. Applying a social constructionist perspective in this inquiry, musicians are seen to imagine alternative social systems through collaborative musicking, which draws from the participants’ backgrounds. Methodologically, the inquiry is framed as a case study with a critical ethnographic lens, where the researcher’s position as the leader and one of the musicians in the ensemble is described as an at-home ethnographer. The rich empirical material includes observations and interviews with six participants and six SibA students as well as a researcher diary. Notations and recordings of the co-composed and arranged musical material from the weekly workshops and four performances were used in order to map out the creative processes and collective decision making in the ensemble. As the researcher’s role in facilitating the collaboration and supervising the SibA students was prominent, presenting several ethical issues, critical reflexivity became central in the practical work and the analysis of the empirical material. 

By framing music collaboration with refugees as a spatial practice, the contributions of this ethnographic inquiry extend research on participatory culture in music education and research on intercultural music practices as part of social engagement in higher music education institutions. The inquiry constructs the musical thirdspace with refugees, higher music education students and a leader as a lived space where the existing musical knowledge, skills and aspirations of the musicians are incorporated in a reciprocal, futures-oriented way. The ethnographic analysis shows how collaborative musicking fosters the interactional and relational aspects of the refugees’ resettlement process and enhances a sense of being protected by others. Further findings emerge in terms of the ensemble enabling the refugees to connect to the identity cohort of musicians, promoting possibilities for agency through imagining reconstructions of the future in the receiving country. The inquiry highlights that socially engaged, intercultural collaboration requires restructuring familiar patterns of teaching and learning in higher music education, challenging musicians and educators to engage with the unfamiliar, and even embrace uncomfortable issues, such as global and local political tensions. The dissertation argues, that by creating musical thirdspaces through social innovations higher music education can prepare future musicians and educators to navigate the intersections of artistic, educational and social dimensions of music and music education, reimagining socially responsible artistic practices. 

More information

Katja Thomson


7.5.2021 at 12:00 – 15:00