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Philosophy of Music Education Review 13.1 (2005) 37-75

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The Nature of Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts in Music Education

North Ossetian State Pedagogical Institute, Russia

The advent of the praxial philosophy of music education in the mid-1990s and its systematic development in David Elliott's Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education1 created an unprecedented situation in music education in North America. Having brought to an end the monopoly of one theoretical approach, that of music education as aesthetic education (MEAE), it challenged the music education community with a choice. While Elliott tried to convince music educators of the falsity of MEAE and of the advantages of his own conception, Bennett Reimer and his proponents defended their position. The polemic between "aestheticians" and "praxialists," represented by the exchange between Reimer and Elliott in the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 2 brought to light a methodological deficiency in music education theory, namely, its inability to provide tenacious theoretical footing which could help settle the dispute. How do changes in the theory and practice [End Page 37] of music education occur? What are the rational standards by which to judge theories? What is the nature and logic of a dynamic development in music education theory and practice? These and similar questions have remained largely unapproached by music educators.

The present paper is an attempt to initiate a discussion on these issues by exposing one possible metatheoretical strategy. As the title suggests, the strategy I am going to employ is based on the concept of paradigm. This Greek term which was once used to describe Platonic ideas, nowadays broadly circulates in descriptions of transformative processes in nearly every domain of life: we hear about paradigm shifts in musicology, the job market and tax policy, genetics, and so on. It is usually used as a kind of unproblematic category with a precisely defined and commonly accepted meaning, so that no indication of the origin of its usage in a given context is provided. In most cases, however, it turns out that "paradigm shift" is equivalent to and stands for "change" of whatever type, scope, or depth and is preferred because it is a mode or perhaps because it sounds more pretentious. In contrast to this tendency, both "paradigm" and "paradigm shift" are taken here most seriously and their usage is intimately related to the tradition in philosophy of science established by Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.3 This may appear dubious after we have been recently told that the impact of this book and the very concept of paradigm have "been largely, but not entirely, for the worse," namely, "to dull the critical sensibility of the academy" and "to kill the historicist impulse."4 "Kuhnification," it has been argued, is responsible for the suppression of free inquiry and bringing about "paradigmitis," a syndrome characterized by "a collective sense of historical amnesia and political inertia."5 Nonetheless, it is my contention that the paradigm approach per se is not dismissed by the criticism of Kuhn's conception and can be modified in such a way as to be made fruitful for structuring music education discourse and the explication of theory development in music education. To show how this is possible is the task before me.

Underlying this project is the idea that theory development in music education can be adequately grasped and appraised in terms of more general units than specific theories which I shall call paradigms. That I am giving preference to this term and not choosing another from the group of providers of the conceptual framework that have been suggested throughout the history—"research tradition" (Laudan), "research programme"(Lakatos), "comprehensive cosmological point of view" (Feyerabend)—is that I find it more pertinent: it is neutral enough and allows for modifications which are necessary in view of the specific nature of music education discourse.

In what follows, I will begin with an examination of Peter Abbs' account of paradigms and paradigm shifts in arts education. I...


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