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Reviewed by:
  • Rethinking Music Education and Social Change by Alexandra Kertz-Welzel
  • Graça Mota
Alexandra Kertz-Welzel, Rethinking Music Education and Social Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022)

I began to read this book shortly after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian troops. Amidst this most terrible and brutal context, reading and re-reading the book that Alexandra Kertz-Welzel offers was both a blessing and an intense exercise of food for thought. A blessing as it drives our minds through a complex but nonetheless rewarding journey into the meanders of critical and ideal visions. An exercise of food for thought as she turns to the arts, philosophy, sociology, and political theory to construct an interdisciplinary, sustained story. While rethinking “the goals of music education in view of social change,”1 the introduction describes the purpose of the study and presents the author’s chosen theoretical pillars: Levitas’s concept of utopia, Georgina Born’s four planes of music’s sociality, David Hesmondalgh’s defense of aesthetic experience, and Martha Nussbaum’s concept of human flourishing. Furthermore, Kertz-Welzel aims to answer the question of what social change is in general but also, concerning music education, to critically consider the contribution that music education can make to social change. She proposes to redefine “the general goals of music education regarding its social and musical intentions, reuniting two dimensions which have been defined as opposite, but are in fact complementary regarding [End Page 99] politically and socially responsive music education and esthetic music education.”2 I will get back later to this last intention in the context of the author’s approach to the redefinition of music education. For now, I will begin with her proposed definition of music education as utopian theory and practice, in the context of the chosen title for this book.

Rethinking Music Education and Social Change is a very appealing title not only because rethinking music education is a most pressing issue within the community of music educators but also because social change, in relationship with music, has been the object of research in numerous projects, claiming the transformative power of music. This is a theme I have been very much involved with, being the co-founder of the research platform, Social Impact of Making Music (SIMM),3 that aims to systematically investigate the possible social impacts of learning and playing music. Having said that, I found myself confronted with a book that sets in the middle of its focus to thoroughly investigate the concept of utopia in its multiple facets based on a complete discussion of its theoretical basis. In that context, the fact that the title of the book does not include utopia seemed to me rather puzzling, and I intend to come back to this at the end of this review.

The author presents a comprehensive and updated review of the literature, its complexities and ambivalences in the relationship between the arts and social change as it appears and has evolved across time. This approach connects social change with activism, not forgetting the issue of dramatic social change that she exemplifies with the COVID-19 pandemic, and to which we can now sadly add the present state of war. Quoting Roxane de la Sablonniére (2017) and her four typologies of social change, Kertz-Welzel highlights the fact that in the last hundred years the pace of change has increased enormously, and “dramatic social change is a threat to cultural identity.”4

The notion of the arts as a political instrument is thoroughly developed, and it should be acknowledged that the author takes here, as well as in other parts of the book, a courageous standpoint. She does not avoid critical or uncomfortable issues, one of them being the ambiguity of the arts. In her discussion on social distinction and identity construction, she cites Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and Pierre Bourdieu and argues that culture has indeed been used as a way of discrimination among people. She also points out the supposedly refined taste of higher social classes cultivated through access to various arts experiences, while others would be denied these experiences and therefore unable to develop their full artistic potential...