Photo: Eeva Anundi

Tools for thinking outside the box

It is rarely a good idea to make sharp distinctions between art and science, writes Professor of Music Education Heidi Partti

I became a researcher gradually and by accident, as a result of looking for my place in the world. I got caught up in questions, musings and conceptualisations. You might say I never really made the transition from studies to working life. Fortunately for me, it’s possible to make a career out of asking questions.

I investigate points of crossover where the wider socio-cultural reality melts with – or crashes into – the everyday life of the classroom. I’m fascinated by changes and phenomena that unavoidably get attached to social mechanisms, while at the same time challenging individuals to ponder their own values and goals. For instance, how does digitalisation challenge our understanding of musicianship? Or how does multiculturalism affect the contents of music teacher education?

My work as a researcher requires me to constantly cross borders. Music education is a field where the lines between different sciences get blurred. I jump between behavioural sciences, the arts, philosophy and cultural research in order to find new theoretical routes. In modern research, how we delineate methods is constantly changing, and most of the time it’s not a good idea even to distinguish between art and science. The researcher works as part of an international community of peers. That is why we need to have both the will and the ability to cross borders between countries, languages and cultures. For me, this is one of the best parts of the job, and something that’s closely connected to my most important discoveries and most fun adventures. At the same time, crossing cultural borders forces us to face the limitations of our thinking and the edges of our personal comfort zones.

In addition to researching, I also teach. For teachers who also do research, the ability to knit together theory and practice is extremely important. Sometimes research takes the form of recommending measures, at other times it guides the planning of the syllabus. It seldom offers any readymade operating guidelines. What it should offer, however, is tools for thinking outside the box and the kind of reflection that helps us understand and reform the world around us.

The researcher and the teacher also have their own boundaries that should not be crossed. Commonly agreed boundaries create a sense of security. It is the responsibility of each researcher-teacher to keep the ethical compass in working order and be clear about the difference between education and indoctrination, between influencing and spouting propaganda.

The text has originally been published as part of Uniarts Helsinki’s annual report. Read more stories here or browse the pdf version of the annual report.