‘Listening to Difference’: Music and Multiculturalism

BFE One-Day Conference – Saturday 21 October 2017

Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge

Keynote: Tina K. Ramnarine (RHUL)


BFE One-Day Conference 2017 - Final Programme


Call for Papers

In recent years, debates regarding the definition and efficacy of multiculturalism as a philosophy and a policy have increased both in academia and the public domain. As a result of growing immigration and the pressures of globalisation, governments and communities are reassessing how to manage difference in multicultural societies (Modood 2013, 2015; Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). Moreover, there has been an increase in xenophobic and racist attitudes towards immigrant communities as scapegoats for the continuing social and economic inequalities characteristic of late capitalism. As a response to the perceived failures of multiculturalism in Europe, there has been a move towards so-called ‘interculturalism’ as a more active mode of cultural interaction that seeks to transcend the essentialising discourses sometimes associated with multiculturalism (Cantle 2012). However, there is a disjuncture between governmental policy towards the integration of immigrants and the actual day-to-day interactions between different communities in the context of ‘everyday multiculturalism’ (Wise and Velayutham 2009). As a sociocultural practice, music is closely intertwined with representations of difference, intercultural exchange and institutional strategies aimed at promoting multiculturalism. It unveils the nature of social relations in multicultural societies at the level of day-to-day experience, as different cultural groups come into contact.

To date, there has been surprisingly little consideration afforded to specifically how music, and those who practise it, might contribute to understandings of multiculturalism. Ethnomusicologists have tended to focus on diaspora studies, exploring how migrant communities use music to invoke nostalgia for the homeland and to establish transnational connections across the diaspora. The study of music can offer valuable contributions to wider debates regarding multiculturalism, in an era characterised by rising right-wing populism and anti-immigration politics. Building on the 2012 seminar ‘Multiculturalism and Music in Britain’ at King’s College London, this conference seeks to expand our understanding of music in multicultural societies. How does music transcend or reinforce difference in multicultural settings? In what ways does multiculturalism contrast with interculturalism in a musical context? Music can be a powerful tool in the negotiation of difference, both as a top-down institutional strategy and as a form of everyday ‘conviviality’ amongst communities (Gilroy 2005). Yet music can also be used to reinforce difference and reclaim national belonging as part of defensive responses to the perceived threat of immigration. In the context of continuing economic and migrant crises within and beyond the borders of Europe, music is a useful gauge of the nature of contemporary multicultural relations.

The programme committee welcomes submissions from any discipline that address the following or related areas:

  • The use of music by institutions/governments/communities to promote multiculturalism or interculturalism;
  • The relationship between music and immigration, both positive (conviviality) and negative (racism/xenophobia);
  • Music and the refugee crisis;
  • Articulating/challenging citizenship, migrated cultural identity and national identity through music;
  • The politics of noise: how ‘host’ communities respond to immigrant soundscapes;
  • Economic/social inequalities in the music of immigrant communities;
  • Alternative approaches to the Euro-American concepts of multiculturalism and interculturalism in different cultural contexts.

We invite proposals of individual papers (20 minutes + 10 minutes questions) or panels of three related papers (90 minutes in total including questions).


We are delighted to have Prof. Tina K. Ramnarine as our keynote speaker


Abstracts for individual papers should be no more than 300 words. For panels, send three abstracts of no more than 300 words each, as well as a panel description of no more than 100 words. Abstracts should be sent to bfeoneday2017atgmail.com by 5pm on Monday 8th May. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out in June.

Call for papers deadline: 
8 May 2017
Conference dates: 
21 Oct 2017
University of Cambridge
Conference web site: