From crowded solitude to re-contextualizing the field

The following guest blog post was written by John Finney, Faculty of Education teacher-researcher, co-editor (with Felicity Laurence) of MasterClass in music education and author of Music education in England 1950-2010.

You can find John on Twitter and his blog, Music Education Now.

From crowded solitude to re-contextualizing the field

It was about 2010 over a drink in the Rock that I quizzed Phil Kirkman and Jennie Francis as I tried to make sense of the recent growth in use of social media through twitter and texting. It was both a mystery and a concern that such short bursts of just 140 characters in the case of twitter could constitute a meaningful manner of communication. I was mindful of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s writing on the subject.

I have greatly enjoyed Bauman’s writing and have you read his 44 Letters from the Liquid Modern World? Letter 2 is titled ‘Crowded Solitude’. He tells of a teenage girl who sent 3,000 text messages in one month, an average of 100 messages a day.

Bauman writes: ‘what follows is that she’s hardly ever been alone for more than ten minutes; that means she has never been with herself – with her thoughts, her dreams, her worries and hopes.’ (2010: 6)

Bauman concludes:

‘Running away from loneliness, you drop your chance of solitude on the way: of that sublime condition in which one can ‘gather thoughts’, ponder, reflect, create – and so in the last account, give meaning and substance to communication. But then, having never savoured the taste, you may never know what you have forfeited, dropped and lost.’ (Ibid: 9)

However, I was shortly to realise that twitter and the emerging blogosphere were becoming places of professional discourse. And in the relatively small field of music education where I reside, here was a meeting place and a global one at that.john finney 1

Beyond music education there was a growing world of teacher twitterers and bloggers who were commanding the attention of government and whose voices were seen as both allies and minor arbiters in policy, its communication and dissemination. Michael Gove flirted with lead blogger ‘Old Andrew’, now an influential blog gatekeeper, while Tom Bennett emerged as government advisor, teachers’ champion and debunker of educational myths, and with over 20,000 followers.

I also noted that with practice it was possible to conduct a debate through twitter and that twitter was a source of information flow that could be valuable. Thus, I became a convert, understanding how all this is part of the time-space contraction that is global modernity.

After a little twittering I entered the blogosphere in 2012 and quickly fell into a pattern of writing a weekly blog rather like a regular newspaper column or Radio 4s Thought for the Day. Each blog takes five to seven minutes to read and above all else is intended to provoke thought. Topics vary from week to week and are often prompted by something recently encountered, some trend or silly idea gaining attention and credence that I feel would benefit from challenge or clarification. Then there are matters close to music teacher’s professional lives: assessment without levels (see blog post here), for example. Blogs on assessment and school audit cultures are big hits.

Sometimes I create a sequence. ‘Sitting by Lake Geneva’ was a four-part retrospective on Jean Piaget and recently I have written a five-part consideration of the purposes of music education.

Running through the over 200 blogs now written there are repetitions, recurrences, nagging issues that I keep returning to and through which my thinking becomes a little clearer. While the first fifty blogs have been published as an eBook there remains much scope for developing material into a more substantial account of ‘Music Education Now’, the blogs title.

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Overall, my aim is to bring together teacher thought and thought circulating beyond the classroom. It is a great medium through which to contribute to the re-contextualization the field and to use another Bernstein notion, to open up those vitalising discursive gaps. (See Bernstein, 2000)

Of course, a blog does need promoting, and links through twitter help with this. I am left wondering just who is the weekly reader in Mongolia and why the recent interest from Thailand?

I am grateful to the ongoing tutelage from the Faculty Library Team on matters of blog presentation. I haven’t yet managed to import a Venn diagram and a good many other things that would improve matters.

The Library Team are at hand.


Bauman, Z. (2010) 44 Letters from the Liquid Modern World. Cambridge: Polity.

Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity. Oxford: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.