Grieg Research School in Interdisciplinary Music Studies
Invited Speaker

Ailbhe Kenny

(Dis)Placing Songs and Stories: Music, Asylum Seeking and Migration

Main content

Music can offer alternative narratives and different ways of being that intersect with the multiple transnational and intersectional identities migrants hold. This presentation illuminates the musical identities and learning journeys of children and adults who have lived or are living through asylum seeking systems. The focus here is on how music and migration becomes entangled through narrative practices and performative expression. There are particular insights into researching how people seeking asylum create musical spaces to open up to new forms of identity that resist narrow categorisations, nationalisms, monocultures and fixed geographies. Thus, both the methodological approaches and the discussion represent a deliberate move away from refugee and asylum seeking tropes that rely on narratives of victimhood or passive dependency. Instead, we hear distinct voices - literally, musically and metaphorically- highlighting how migrants are shaping and are being shaped by musical space. Within the discussion, I draw on various research methods of interviewing, observation, informal conversations, broadcasts, videos, music recordings, musical memories, visual artwork, musical compositions and reflective logs. I also explore narratives and cultural expressions as they take new forms in a digital space which demands a reconsideration about what research looks and sounds like. Furthermore, the presentation extends the inquiry to interrogate the role of the researcher as embodied and emplaced. This discussion opens a space to reflect critically on researcher positionality where negotiating, enacting and performing numerous positions cannot be separated from the research itself.

Key Questions

  1. How can we utilise music and sound to greater effect within both data gathering and dissemination strategies?

  2. What are the ethical implications of capturing personal stories and music amongst those seeking asylum?

Recommended Reading

  • Kenny, A. (2021). ‘Body Politics: Positioning the Pregnant Researcher amongst Asylum Seekers’. In Kallio, A.A., Westerlund, H., Karlsen, S., Marsh, K., Saether, E. (Eds.). The Politics of Diversity in Music Education, pp. 29-38. Springer Open, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65617-1_3
  • Kenny, A. & Young, K. (2021) ‘The house of the Irish’: African migrant musicians and the creation of diasporic space at night, Ethnomusicology Forum, https://doi.org/10.1080/17411912.2021.1938623
  • Kenny, A. (2018) 'Voice of Ireland? Children and music within asylum seeker accommodation', Research Studies in Music Education, 40(2), pp. 211-225, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1321103X18794197


Dr Ailbhe Kenny is based at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland. Ailbhe’s research is widely published internationally; she is author of Communities of Musical Practice (2016) and co-editor of Musician-Teacher Collaborations: Altering the Chord (2018). She is a EURIAS fellow, Fulbright Scholar and holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Ailbhe is currently a PI on the HERA-funded project ‘Night Spaces: Migration, Culture and Integration in Europe’ (NITE).