Grieg Research School in Interdisciplinary Music Studies

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Project title: Gender at stake: A study of secondary school children's musicking

Project period: Apr 1, 2008 - Sept 15, 2012

Main supervisor: Thorolf Krüger

Co-supervisor: Ellen Mortensen


The project:

The PhD-study I am working on is investigating music activities in Norwegian secondary school through a gender perspective. The main research questions for the study are:

  • How are gender constructed in the music activities in secondary school music education?
  • Why are gender constructed the ways found in this study? 
  • What can the findings of this study indicate about the knowledge production in secondary school music education in general?

By using the concept gender constructions, a social constructionist view on gender and musical practice is indicated. The study draws on a Foucauldian understanding of the social world as discursive orders. It has therefore been important to collect statements from the field of music education in Norwegian secondary school, to identify constructions of gender in relation to music. To Foucault statements are both practical and verbal. The data collection therefore consists of both classroom observations of music activities and interviews with pupils and their music teacher. The methodological approach has been an ethnographic fieldwork in two lower secondary schools on the west coast of Norway. Beside the observations and interviews, a questionnaire mapping the pupils social and musical background and teaching material that has been used in the field observed, such as textbooks, internet pages, song repertoire and curriculums (national and local) provide supplementary data.

To understand why gender is constructed the ways found in the data, I draw on Judith Butler’s theory about gender performativity. According to Butler we imitate already existing gender figures in our culture to make sense to ourselves and others. In the data pupils mostly take their imitations from artists performing stereotyped gender figures in rock, pop and hiphop. In my analysis I’m trying to grasp the pupils’ negotiation between the gender discourses of popular music and the more political correct discourses about gender equality, and analyze the power relations governing their action and speech.

The aim of the study is to highlight the taken for granted gender relations in music education and see how they influence learning and formation processes.


Silje Valde Onsrud is a PhD-candidate at the University College of Bergen and the University of Bergen, 2008-2012. She is working in the field of music education. The PhD-study is an investigation of gender structures' influence on music activities in secondary school music education. She has a master degree in musicology from the University of Oslo, and several years of experience as a music teacher in secondary school.