Refugee Music

Music in the Lives of Refugee Children     

Associate Professor Kathryn Marsh

Australia has been settled through multiple waves of migration throughout its history. A significant number of those who have migrated to Australia are refugees and asylum seekers, with Australia providing permanent settlement for a large number of refugees relative to population. Many of these refugees are children aged under 18, as children constitute more than half the world’s displaced population. Refugees may face a range of social, emotional and cultural challenges related to geographical and cultural displacement and trauma experienced both in the country of origin, en route and in the process of relocation and resettlement.

This ethnographic project aims to examine the role of music in the lives of refugee children and young people as a means of developing forms of communication, a sense of belonging and empowerment, and as a contribution to cultural maintenance, identity construction, emotional release and integration within the host culture.  In particular, the study aims to investigate the following:

  • Forms of music participation in home, community and educational settings
  • Use of technological media in musical activity
  • Cultural maintenance and cross-cultural transmission through musical activity
  • Contribution of music to acculturation and integration processes within the host culture
  • Contribution of music to empowerment and development of agency
  • Communicative uses and perceived emotional outcomes of musical activity

This will be studied through the lens of refugee children’s own musical activity, resisting a discourse that pathologises their plight.

During 2015 Associate Professor Marsh will take up a position as Visiting Research Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC), University of Oxford. This will enable her to situate the examination of refugee children’s musical lives within the context of international social and political thought relating to refugee wellbeing, by exploring published scholarly studies and unpublished research and records held at the RSC and Bodleian Library (archival and bibliographical research). The study will fit within the parameters of the RSC Experiences research cluster, contributing to the understanding of forced migration through the lived experiences and perspectives of refugees and refugee communities.