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Performative Listening

Hearing Others in Qualitative Research

Chris McRae

Performative Listening: Hearing Others in Qualitative Research offers an alternative theory of listening – as a performative act, or as a relational stance and performance in which listeners ethically engage in an act of learning from others across difference. This theory emerges from an interdisciplinary approach to performance studies, communication, musicology, and critical pedagogy in order to present a nuanced theory of listening as performance that is always linked to questions of context, individual experiences, and cultural expectations. Working from examples of the music and autobiography of Miles Davis, this book offers a clear and practical guide for applying performative listening in the contexts of qualitative, narrative, and arts-based approaches to research and inquiry. By emphasizing the embodied, relational, and creative functions of the highly contextual and cultural performance of listening, Performative Listening presents a theory and method that can be used to rethink the ways scholars and students engage with others in a wide variety of qualitative research and educational contexts.
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Chapter 3. A Relational Ethic of Listening




On the wall in my office there is a framed black-and-white close-up photograph of Davis. It is the same photograph that was in the bar where I first began improvising on trumpet. In the picture Davis’s eyes are closed, his hands are placed on either side of his face, and his lips are pursed. His tightly closed eyes suggest the trumpeter is deep in thought, or is perhaps, listening. His fingertips on either side of his face appear to be conjuring a melody or a solo. The muscles of his mouth suggest an embouchure that has been developed and disciplined through countless hours of practice and performance.

On the shelf in my office there is a crumbling red brick sitting in a small, but growing, pile of red clay. One side of the brick is covered in a peeling layer of white paint. The edges are rough, the corners are jagged, and otherwise there are no identifiable markers of the brick’s origin or significance as once belonging to a building where Davis performed. On another shelf sits a row of books regarding Davis including his autobiography, a biography, an edited collection of essays, and a book of transcriptions of his solos.

On my computer there is a digital library of music with over a dozen Miles Davis albums. The music on these albums demonstrate the shifting musical styles of Davis, they capture both moments of live...

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