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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 4. Listening Performatively: Hearing and Pedagogy




I’m listening to and learning from the music and autobiography of Miles Davis. In his autobiography, Davis tells stories, makes observations, and provides commentary about his life and experiences as a musician and artist. In his music, Davis plays solos, establishes styles, and creates sounds interacting with a variety of other musicians. I listen to the albums and the stories in Davis’s autobiography as a student. I am working to hear lessons about playing the trumpet, about collaborating with other musicians, and about musical forms and styles. I am working to hear lessons about a specific life story, about historical and cultural contexts, and about the creative practices of an artist. I am also trying to hear lessons in these musical and written texts about teaching and learning. In these examples I am hearing a lesson about pedagogy.

The lessons I hear in Davis’s music and autobiography are always shaped by my position and performance as a listener. I frame Davis’s music and autobiography as educational, and I am responsible for the kinds of learning experiences that are generated by my interactions with Davis’s stories and sounds. However, the lessons of Davis’s music and story emerge from the examples of his playing and his writing. Performative listening works to meet the challenge of learning to hear the lessons in and from these examples. ← 71 | 72 →

Performative listening is a kind of learning practice that attends to...

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