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Playing the system: ‘Race’-making and elitism in diversity projects in Germany's classical music sector

Kolbe, Kristina (2021) Playing the system: ‘Race’-making and elitism in diversity projects in Germany's classical music sector. Poetics, 87. ISSN 0304-422X

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.poetic.2021.101532


This paper explores to what extent diversity initiatives in the Western classical music sector can be associated with progressive institutional change, or the reproduction of elite formations and processes of ‘race’-making. Drawing from interview and ethnographic data, I examine a self-described ‘intercultural’ children's choir project, which has been developed by an established classical music institution in Berlin. Set against the project's institutional setting and its political context, where the legacies of German imperialism and racialised guestworker policies continue to manifest, I interrogate how diversity is negotiated in the organisational and social workings of the choir. My analysis documents the ambivalent ways in which diversity becomes commodified into a strategic approach to cultural recognition, social mobility and the remaking of white elitism, leading to the continuous construction of racialised others whose (symbolic) labour is extracted for the reproduction of classed and raced hierarchies. The paper therefore shows how diversity initiatives in the Western highbrow sector, even when pushed for with genuine intentions of institutional change and social justice, operate on a hierarchical terrain and risk being turned into an elite-making and ‘race’-making endeavour which secures privileged positions of middle-class whiteness.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: International Inequalities Institute
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2021 18:12
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2023 07:24

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