Bridging the Gap: Ethnomusicology and Cognitive Science

Benjamin Teitelbaum


The late-twentieth-century postmodern critique marginalized cognitive science's presence in cultural studies. The staunchly humanistic discipline of ethnomusicology embraced methodological and epistemological paradigms of theorists such as Clifford Geertz--paradigms that left little room for the quantifying, positivist approaches of cognitive science. Scholars of music cognition, no longer welcome in many ethnomusicological debates, left to form their own discipline and found their own journals. Outside of some noteworthy exceptions, the schism between humanistic and scientific music scholars continues in the present. However, recent, seminal works in music cognition point to a shift away from the very methodologies once rejected by ethnomusicology, a shift accompanied by increasing use of cognitive linguistics. My study begins by tracing the estrangement of humanistic and scientific scholars in musical research from the flowering of the cognitive paradigm in the 1970s, through the break up in the 1980s, and to the signs of reconciliation in the previous ten years. In the latter phase, I argue specifically that the topics of musical imagery in music cognition, and technology and musical knowledge in ethnomusicology share similar subject matter. I end by calling for increased collaboration in such fields of inquiry, and between the subdisciplines of ethnomusicology and music cognition in general.

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