Public defence of the doctoral dissertation of Minja Koskela

Title of the dissertation: Democracy through pop? Thinking with intersectionality in Popular Music Education in Finnish schools

  • Opponent: Maria Westvall
  • Examiners of the dissertation: Maria Westvall, Ruth Wright
  • Custos: prof. Heidi Westerlund (Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki


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

Abstract of the dissertation

Koskela, Minja (2022). Democracy through pop? Thinking with intersectionality in Popular Music Education in Finnish schools. Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki.

This article-based doctoral dissertation is an inquiry into the conditions required for democractic popular music education (PME) in Finnish basic education. Although critical research on PME in Finland has recently increased, the rapid diversification of Finnish society due to migration calls for a more profound exploration of the practices of PME in school with respect to the intersecting identities of students. The inquiry questions previous claims that popular music is students’ ‘own’ music and, therefore, a democratic medium through which to teach music. The democracy argument has led to PME becoming an internationally recognized and hegemonic feature of schooling in Finland. The overarching question guiding the inquiry is: On what and on whose terms is the democracy of PME in Finnish school music education constructed and enacted?

Methodologically, this inquiry engages in the inquiry as stance tradition as the practitioner- researcher explores her own PME teaching context. The research was conducted with an optional music class of 22 lower secondary school students in one Finnish school in which lessons consisted mainly of playing and singing popular music pieces chosen by the students. The empirical material includes videotaped lessons (n=7), student interviews (n=14), a teacher-researcher diary, and the National Core Curricula for basic education and music (2004 and 2014). Reflexivity was enacted in three stages: self-reflexivity, inter-reflexivity between two researchers, and systems reflexivity. The inquiry as stance tradition was deepened by engaging with the thinking with theory approach with and through Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality and Chantal Mouffe’s theory of radical democracy. The data were analysed by first using qualitative content analysis and (deductively) coding the transcriptions and curricula texts, then using insight-driven analysis and, finally, thinking with theory to interpret the codes.

The findings are presented in three international peer-reviewed articles two of which were co- authored and one single authored. Article 1 explores the politics of diversity in the Finnish National Core Curricula for basic education and music and calls for rethinking inequalities in PME as well as formulating new understandings of diversity at the policy level by using intersectionality as a tool. Article 2 explores the classroom negotiations in PME. By examining on three episodes from the observed music lessons, it shows that negotiation processes in PME are mainly conducted from the viewpoint of the teacher and the school’s norms and therefore neglect student perspectives. The article suggests that pursuing democracy in PME entails widening the focus beyond subject content to the interactional context of the music classroom. Article 3 focuses on the interviews with students and explores social class, ‘race’, and their intersections in the practices of PME. The article suggests that by engaging in reflexivity and systems thinking music teachers could critically (re)consider the tasks they assign to students and develop awareness of how the hierarchies in Finnish society may manifest in the PME classroom and prevent democratic negotiations.

Overall, the findings show that treating popular music as democratic in and of itself creates a paradox in which the students – despite their intersecting identities – are treated as a homogenous group and assumed to be middle-class and white. Consequently, PME reproduces the normative hierarchies present in the surrounding society. Hence, the inquiry suggests that future music teachers should be guided 1) to critically read curricula and how they reflect society and its hierarchies, and 2) to recognize and deconstruct the mechanisms that produce structural inequalities. Finally, the inquiry suggests that 3) music teachers may benefit from using intersectionality as an analytical lens. As intersectionality takes plurality as a starting point, it can help make inequalities visible as teachers strive towards radical democracy in (popular) music education.

The research was part of the Arts as a Public Service: Strategic Steps Towards Equality (ArtsEqual) research initiative funded by the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council (project number 314223/2017).

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Minja Koskela


18.6.2022 at 10:00 – 13:00



Mannerheimintie 13a

00100 Helsinki

Helsinki Music Centre


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