Dr Jade Levell is a lecturer in Criminology and Gender Violence at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Jade is a specialist in gender-based violence and serious youth violence, with a focus on masculinities and is the Criminology lead for Palladium’s Albanian RAYS Project: Reconnecting Albanian Youth and Society. She is a co-editor of the Journal of Gender Based Violence, and board member of Working with Perpetrators European Network.
Music has most famously been used as a tool for journalists since 1942 as part of BBC Radio Four’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ program, where celebrities were asked to bring seven tracks to help talk about their lives. This approach has been increasingly used as a social research tool in a similar way and has been found to be effective when working with marginalised groups.
Music is a visceral tool that can create a bridge of understanding between two people, or groups, who live very different lives. The intergenerational resonance of music is helpful in this regard; music can be heard and appreciated by people of very different life stages. Listening to music together can put people at ease, act as a springboard for discussion, create a shared experience, or provide support.
To create long-lasting and sustainable impact with ‘hard-to-reach’ communities there needs to be trust, respect, and a shared understanding. Music can help.
In my own research, I used music as a way to reach out to men who had experienced childhood adversity as well as adolescent gang involvement. I asked the simple question, “Bring three music tracks to help tell parts of your life stories”. This was incredibly sensitive research, as participants shared their experiences of abuse, neglect, poverty, as well as gang-involvement.
Music tracks, lyrics, and videos, all functioned as communication tools; participants can use them in diverse ways to articulate difficult stories and ‘say the unspeakable’. This approach is referred to as music elicitation.
In an overarching way, it helps place the power in the hands of the participants, allowing them to curate the interview space. It inverts the traditional power structures and places the interviewer in the position of both co-listener and audience. It disrupts the inequality that can be perpetuated in a traditional interview or support session.
Supporting At-Risk Youth in Albania
Since May 2020, Palladium, alongside a multi-disciplinary international team, have been exploring the ways in which music as both a social research tool (through the application of music elicitation) and a support work listening tool can be used to support young people who have been identified as ‘at risk’ of exploitation and involvement in serious organised crime in Albania. As a team, we are utilising music elicitation as a thread throughout the whole project. To date, we have engaged in capacity building work by enhancing the skills of local social work and social research professionals to use music as a listening tool in their work.
This has been very well received as an innovative and interesting technique, and local stakeholders have been keen to get involved. The team has also carried out a pilot study using music elicitation interviews with men in prison who have faced similar adversities as the young people we are targeting. This data will inform and shape the work on the ground, creating interventions that are shaped by survivors who understand what is needed and what could have helped them in their own adolescence.
Music as a tool both defines and inspires the co-productive nature of the project. As the project progresses, music will be threaded into the interventions offered with youth at-risk of disengagement with school and support services.
The beauty of the technique is in its simplicity and transferability; it is not resource intensive and is easily explained to the diverse range of partners. Music can help us form a language that travels between people of different country contexts, gender, age, race, class. Music in its many forms, as a universally appreciated medium, can help us navigate intersectional differences and mutual understanding across axis of difference. This will support the goal of reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised people we seek to support.
Music connects people throughout time and space. It can anchor memories; positive and negative. Music can help us make links across generations and assist us in our goals of youth empowerment, participation, and the creation of positive change within their communities.
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