Keynote speaker

Professor Doctor Britta Sweers, Institute of Musicology, University of Bern.

Professor of Cultural Anthropology of Music, Deputy Director of the Institute of Musicology, Director of the Centre for Global Studies




Britta Sweers is Professor of Cultural Anthropology of Music at the Institute of Musicology (since 2009) and Director of the Centre for Global Studies (since 2015) at the University of Bern (Switzerland). Since 2015 she has also been President of the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (ESEM). Having studied at Hamburg University (Ph.D. 1999) and Indiana University (Bloomington, 1992/93), she was Assistant (2001-2003) and Junior Professor of Systematic Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock (Germany) from 2003 to 2009. Her research addresses the transformation of traditional musics (particularly of the British Isles, the Baltic Countries, and Scandinavia) in global contexts, music and nationalism, gender, applied ethnomusicology, and soundscapes. She has been leading the inter-European SNF project 'City Sonic Ecology: Urban Soundscapes of Bern, Ljubljana, and Belgrade' since 2014. Major publications include Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (2005), Polyphonie der Kulturen ([“Polyphony of Cultures”] CD/CD-ROM 2006/8), Grenzgänge – Gender, Ethnizität und Klasse als Wissenskategorien in der Musikwissenschaft ([“Border Crossing – Gender, Race, and Class as Category of Knowledge in Musicology”] edited with Cornelia Bartsch, 2016). She is co-editor of the European Journal of Musicology and of the Equinox book series Transcultural Music Studies.


Ethnomusicology in the 21st Century: A European Perspective

Ethnomusicological research has been increasingly dominated by keywords such as neoliberalism, nationalism, torture, terror, conflict, dispossession, or displacement in recent years. This shift clearly reflects a profound process of socio-political, -economic, and -cultural transformations of established structures on a global scale. While the end of the Cold War had initially fuelled hopes for a new world order of which an expanded European Union was one positive vision, the likewise emerging power vacuum also resulted in unprecedented global instabilities. Interconnected with further developments of a modern thick globalization (Held et al. 1999), this development has likewise been eroding existent boundaries, resulted in unprecedented new global-local relations, as evident in the dissolution of the war/ peace divide or the displacement of whole populations. As particularly the case of Europe exemplifies, this complex shift has likewise resulted in renewed nationalism movements on a large scale and an apparent Euroscepticism of which the Brexit has been the most prominent example. While the rise of neo-nationalism has been the result of a variety of reasons, the whole development is nevertheless leading back to situations, which we thought to have overcome. At the same time, interconnectedness (also represented in the search for a common Europe) seems to be regarded as more important than ever.

What is the place of ethnomusicology in this likewise opaque situation? Various political discourses have been emphasizing the importance of internal stability in order to re-establish peace on a global scale. This not only applies to apparent conflict zones, but also to many other, more hidden contexts – likewise within Europe. Ethnomusicology can become a useful means of facilitating processes of integration, tolerance and understanding, yet it can easily also become a political tool, which is instrumentalized for national purposes. Is it still possible to maintain an overview of the complex whole as an individual researcher? How far can we also make use of previous experiences and observations? Where are major obstacles? And what are the chances at possibilities? Falling back on a specifically European perspective, this presentation explores the challenges of a modern ethnomusicology – especially at an age of increasing neoliberal thinking that likewise constantly requires a clear awareness of conflicting discursive practices, e.g. between research and economics. Moreover, set against this background, it seems more essential than ever to not only intensify professional transnational networks, but also to expand strategies for international teamwork.