‘Plurality, Inclusivity, Difference: Challenges for the Future University’

Informing my proposal is T.W. Adorno’s imagining of peace among human beings in his essay Subject and Object’: ‘Peace is the state of distinctness without domination, with the distinct participating in each other.

In contrast to the corporatist cliches of current university mission statements, this suggests a more worthy vision for the future university, which it might pursue through theoretical reflection and intervention, and the practical cultivation of curricula that not only reflect distinctness, or cultural difference, but foster participatory engagement with it. But how can we negotiate between a plurality of cultural and epistemic positions without lapsing into an everything-is-relative mentality that characterises some brands of postmodernism and liberalism?

My proposal is to help advance this inquiry by bringing to CRASSH perspectives on cultural pluralism acquired through my own critical-theoretical researches and practices as a musicologist and musician, and by creating further chapters (metaphorically and literally) through dialogue with scholars in my own and other fields.

To date my explorations have included not only speculative research but also curricular developments, the one informing the other. My article ‘Elvis and Darmstadt’ represents my most sustained attempt to theorise cultural pluralism, with particular reference to the high-art v. popular music divide in 20th-century music production, consumption and historiography. In it I weigh liberal pluralism against theories of radical democracy by Zizek, Mouffe and Laclau. Elsewhere, in my essay Eminem: Difficult Dialogics, I consider how rebarbative forms of hip-hop severely problematise weak-relativist celebrations of cultural plurality, and paradoxically force ethics into the frame. And in my article on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction I examine what is simultaneously enjoyable and disturbing in media representations of world music that make light of cultural and historical difference. These inquires have arisen from, and feed back into, the pluralist musical culture of my own department at Newcastle University, which has grown further under our CETL (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) for Music and Inclusivity, of which I am Director. The (mixed) lessons learned from the CETL are a further contribution I hope to bring to CRASSH.

Among my research questions (also part of a projected book, Music after Postmodernism) are:

• What can music, as a social practice, contribute to interdisciplinary debates on plurality and inclusivity, identity and difference?

• How might ethnomusicology and practical engagement with world musics help develop models of ‘distinctness without domination’?

• How, from this, can we build an ethics for relating to the culturally other?

• What insights might be gained from the philosophies and consciousnesses (howsoever defined) underpinning other musics?

Included in my approaches will be an inquiry into my own experience of learning Indian music and of implanting it into the curriculum – see The former represents a paradigmatic case of participant-observation which I want to evaluate against the wider canvas of anthropology, postcolonialism and multiculturalism. The latter raises many fascinating questions, such as why the biggest takers for learning a non-western classical practice have been students of western popular music.


Professor David Clarke (Music, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) is a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, Easter 2011


Tel: +44 1223 766886