Lauren Kapalka Richerme is an Assistant Professor of Music Education at Indiana University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on music education foundations, philosophy, and sociology. Her research interests also include education policy and secondary general music. Her work has been published in Philosophy of Music Education Review, Arts Education Policy Review, Journal of Music Teacher Education, Music Educators Journal, and Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education. She also has book chapters in Advances in Music Education Research and Music Education: Navigating the Future. Lauren co-facilitates the SMTE Policy ASPA and serves on the editorial board of Arts Education Policy Review and on the advisory board of the Music Educators Journal. Prior to her university teaching, Lauren taught high school and middle school band and general music in Massachusetts. She holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harvard University, and Arizona State University.
To Name or Not to Name? Social Justice, Poststructuralism, and Music Teacher Education
While names affect all aspects of life, they hold particular significance for those engaged in social justice endeavors (Vaugeois, 2009). Analyzing how some names grant and reinforce power while others deny it serves a central role in understanding and ultimately challenging systemic inequalities (e.g. Benedict, 2007; Freire, 1970/2000; Ladson-Billings, 1998). Yet, when left unquestioned, the ways in which social justice advocates use names can have detrimental effects. This philosophical inquiry draws on the work of various poststructuralist authors to analyze the problems and possibilities of naming in relation to social justice and to posit how music teacher educators and preservice teachers might reimagine named and unnamed possibilities.
If, as MayDay Action Ideal #1 suggests, “All music and music learning is culturally situated,” then individual contexts affect musically educative social justice endeavors. As such, the ways in which individuals use names and naming to challenge hegemonic structures can be problematic for three reasons. First, they can imply uniformity, propagating what Lyotard (1979/1984) calls “grand narratives” by, for example, bounding all women or African Americans under the same name. Second, names can suggest stability, perhaps compelling one to maintain the name “working poor” despite changes in his or her own perceptions as well as those of allies and opponents. While highlighting specific names can lead to the fortification of singular identities, the concept of multiplicities (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987) promotes an understanding of existence as variable, creating situations in which an individual is no longer only “working poor,” “woman,” and/or “Hispanic,” but an evolving mix of qualities and relationships. Third, names can limit changing conceptions and creative possibilities, highlighting what people are rather than what they might become (e.g. Kristeva, 1974/1984; Lyotard, 1988/1991; May & Semetsky, 2008). In contrast, refraining from naming allows, for example, a Hispanic woman to imagine scenarios in which qualities such as race and gender do not limit or confine her, where she can be and become “doctor” or “executive” rather than “Hispanic doctor” or “female executive.”
While poststructuralist writers raise significant concerns about the assumptions underlying and limits of naming, their unwillingness to name has received substantial critique (e.g. Alcoff, 1998; Braidotti, 2006; Grosz, 1994). Neglecting to name the particularities of oppressed groups facilitates the maintenance and propagation of existing hierarchies (Braidotti, 2006; Grosz, 1994). For example, Grosz (1994) summarizes that Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts “not only neutralize women’s sexual specificity, but, more insidiously, they also neutralize and thereby mask men’s specificities, interests, and perspectives” (p. 163). Such action can have far-reaching political implications for those working towards social justice (Alcoff, 1998; Braidotti, 2011). Alcoff (1988) argues that by asserting total difference, poststructuralists make gender and other qualities invisible, thus undercutting their ability to oppose dominant structures and practices (p. 420). By emphasizing differing and unnamed possibilities while minimizing or omitting named distinctions, poststructuralist authors risk missing opportunities to challenge oppressive systems and create viable alternatives.
Given the problems of both naming and not naming, two integrated paths forward are proposed and applications to music teacher education are offered. These suggestions are consistent with the assertion in MayDay Action Ideal #1, “Music learning works best when we are mindful, reflective, and critically aware of cultural contexts.” First, Braidotti’s (2011) framework, in which she asserts the existence of three “levels” of difference, is explored and adapted. Braidotti posits examining differences between men and women, differences among women, and differences and differing within a single woman. Similarly, music teacher educators and students engaging with social justice readings and projects can consider the benefits and limitations of naming differences between dominant and marginalized groups, differences within marginalized groups, and how each individual differs over time.
Second, inspired by St. Pierre’s (2011) application of quantum entanglement to qualitative research, I posit quantum superposition as a philosophical figuration for simultaneously named and unnamed individuals. “Superposition” refers to the indefinite locatedness of a quantum particle prior to measurement. Drawing on this phenomenon, when not directly naming themselves or being named, one can perceive humans as existing in a superposition of all previous names and unimagined possible future names. The philosophical figuration of superposition challenges music educators and students to decide when to name themselves or others using one or more of Braidotti’s three phases and when to embrace unnamed becomings. More broadly, these ideas may inspire a reconsideration of naming in all aspects of music education, including styles of music, musical practices such as composing or performing, music electives such as technology and theory, and even “music education.” In short, rather than asking “To name or not to name?” music educators might engage with questions such as “When, how, and who might we name?” and “When and how might we and others use music to embrace unnamed possibilities?”