Actors in music education: comparative ethnography between three nucleous inspired by the El Sistema programme in Venezuela, Brazil and Portugal / Atores da educação musical

Publication Type:



Sociology, Universidade do Minho, Volume PhD, Braga, p.528 (2016)


Reproduced in more than 60 countries nowadays, El Sistema, a Venezuelan orchestral program, is a worldwide reference in the use of musical art as a tool for personal development and social education among populations living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. After forty years of intensive work, the numbers of teachers and students are massive. Yet, there is a gap in social science research on what is really happening in Venezuela and in the countries that have been inspired by it. This research intends to fill in this gap by applying ethnographic methodologies under a sociological eye. For that, the author focuses the research on the basic unit of El Sistema – the núcleus. A núcleo is a physical space, like a school, where social actors (teachers, students, principals, parents…) get together for daily music classes, following El Sistema methods. The lessons are free and the instruments are lent to the students. The starting questions this thesis asks are: How do actions progress in a núcleo and what is the role of each of its actors? To answer them the author suggests a comparative analysis between three núcleos in three countries: Venezuela, Brazil and Portugal. In the last two, musical education programs inspired by El Sistema were chosen: Neojiba in Brazil and Orquestra Geração in Portugal. In each of the three programs, only one núcleo was selected as a unit of analysis. It is, therefore, a multi-sited research, in which are applied qualitative methodologies: ethnographic observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The comparative analysis is not normative. Instead, it is a way to complexify and provoke the researcher’s thinking, using the differences and the similarities between the three núcleos. In these fields of research, ethnography is central, carried out daily at a very intense pace, aimed at capturing and illustrating the role of each actor in the núcleos. The aim is to understand which individual and collective actions are developed in each context. The heart of this thesis is to reveal as many empirical aspects of the núcleos as possible, through diverse complementary angles. To better analyse actions in núcleos, the study is extended by incorporating social, economic and political contexts surrounding them. The factors that seem external also have an impact on the actions of each actor and, in consequence, on the results obtained through musical education. The thesis reveals how each núcleo is peculiar and alive, constantly acting and reacting to the various surrounding social settings. Institutional mechanisms to reproduce El Sistema are not enough. The human aspect, in its complexities, is fundamental for a sustainable cohesion amongst all actors of a núcleo. Only then can symphonic music become a tool as well as a goal to be reached. The fieldwork exposes the role of “discontinuity” in the student’s actions and of “contrast” between adjacent social realities. Both result from unstable contexts but, paradoxically, the most challenging ones can be very positive and create strong attachments between a núcleo and its actors.