Unveiling WOMAD's human face: Towards a critical ethnography of WOMAD

  • James Nissen

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis offers the first critical ethnographic examination of WOMAD (World Of Music, Arts & Dance), the largest international music festival in the UK and one of the most influential promoters of international music in the world. It examines WOMAD's history, its programming, its meanings for participants and its post-festival impacts. Drawing on a multimodal approach that combines ethnographic fieldwork with archival research, data analysis, narrative analysis and other methods, it explores WOMAD musically, socially, culturally and politically across historical, structural and experiential levels. It envoices the perspectives, experiences and stories of WOMAD participants, including musicians, attendees and organisers, aspiring to unveil WOMAD's human face. In line with applied ethnomusicology, it provides a series of suggestions for festival organisers, grounded in research findings and research participants' perspectives and experiences. It offers a rationale for a new approach to international music research, tying in with emerging directions that attempt to move beyond the polarised scholarly discourse of the so-called 'world music debate'. It proposes that WOMAD defies existing categories and, by reconceptualising WOMAD, it offers a new way of understanding both the festival and other intercultural music phenomena. In doing so, it also engages in intellectual debates on music globalisation, music communities, intercultural aesthetics and political strategies in music, reflecting on issues across a range of disciplines including ethnomusicology, anthropology, sociology, music festival studies, intercultural studies, music education studies and music and gender studies. By envoicing the perspectives of international music participants themselves on these issues, it brings voices often left unheard into these critical conversations.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCaroline Bithell (Supervisor) & Roddy Hawkins (Supervisor)


  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music and gender
  • Music and politics
  • Intercultural communication
  • Music communities
  • Music festivals
  • World Music

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