Music and Conflict Transformation in Bosnia: Constructing and Reconstructing the Normal


  • Craig Robertson Exeter University


music, conflict transformation, memory, affordance, normal, identity, peace


Can music play a role in positive conflict transformation? Having developed a theoretical basis from a previous examination of the contrasting musical conflict transformation projects of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Hip Hop, I have collected data on an inter-religious choir in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina with an explicit conflict transformation remit. Data was collected using ethnographic interviews and participant/observations with fifteen of the choristers in an attempt to answer this question. There was no direct access to audience data and any references to audience reception are from the choir members’ points of view. This detail highlights the issue of application of cultural findings within the choir to the wider social context. For the purposes of this paper therefore any discussions of wider social context are assumed to be mediated through the choristers themselves as members of the choir and the larger Sarajevo and Bosnian society. This data is compared with the previously developed theories and emerging themes are discussed. The fieldwork is ongoing and this article is a summary of findings thus far.
The data conflicts with many of the original theories and this highlights the importance of a grounded theoretical approach. The emerging themes include questions of Bosnian and musical identities; what is ‘normal’; ‘knowing one’s place’ in a formal musical environment; and the difference between the choir’s ‘mission’ of conflict transformation and the motivations of the choir members.
The findings so far indicate that this particular music conflict transformation project has had some success but it is limited to the types of people who become involved as choristers or audiences (all current data on audiences is from recall from the choristers, as no data collection directly from the audiences was possible). Data also indicates that music projects themselves should be reflexive as conflict situations are not static.

Author Biography

Craig Robertson, Exeter University

Craig Robertson is a PhD candidate in music sociology at the University of Exeter and a member of the Sociology of the Arts Group at Exeter. Prior to academic research he has been a secondary school music teacher in London and a working musician across the U.K. and Canada.