Made in Poland

From my experience, it’s quite hard to find a person who doesn’t like music or travelling, or even a person who doesn’t have something delightful to tell about their Erasmus time. People eventually get bright-eyed when talking of these subjects – and studying them must be for sure an excitement as big as the challenge of doing it represents. To talk about them, I got an interview (that I’m very glad to share!) with Katarzina Wyrzykowska, a friend of mine who is working her way out in the scientific world by starting her PhD on Sociology of Music at the Polish Academy of Sciences. She’s part of what I’d call a “brave new breed” of young researchers, passionate for knowledge and curious about what goes round them – both quintessentially necessary characteristics for a good scientist.

We talked about the subjects, methods and results of researches, as the result of an idea that came by in a Sci-Journalism class I had earlier this semester. Enjoy!

What exactly are you going to study within Sociology of Music?

Well, the title (working title) of my PhD thesis is: “Adolescents participation in music culture as a part of their life style”. So it is not concerning only Sociology of Music (or broadly speaking Sociology of Culture), but it is a more interdisciplinary subject. However, using findings of other social sciences, I will be still acting as a sociologist. Because this project is an empirical study, I want to use a tool called In-depth Interview (IDI). I am a quality-oriented scientist (humanistic sociology) and my research is supposed not only to show participation but a meaning and motivation which individuals give to their own actions. In polish sociology it is called “comprehensive research” – that You are not interested “how” it look likes, but also “why” (question of meaning and motivation).

What are your sources, since you said that in Poland there are not too many people studying that now?

That’s true. Since the end of the 1980’s, or to be precise since 1989, music is not a popular subject of sociological studies in Poland. My hypothesis is that system transition has brought new problems (for example unemployment, need for quick and radical changes in legislative system, education, health care etc., legitimisation of democratic regime, introduction of free market economy, and many others), so attention of scientists (not only sociologists, but social and political scientists) has been focused mostly on those problems. Of course other issues are also a subject of interest, but from what I have observed nowadays, music is a rather marginal topic.

As I said before, my PhD thesis is rather interdisciplinary. Although the method (IDI) is a typical sociological tool, the theoretical frames will be built on literature from various disciplines like psychology of music, pedagogy, ethnomusicology (and musicology), anthropology of music, and finally sociology of music and culture. Fortunately it is possible to find some polish publications concerning those disciplines. Moreover, there are a lot of scientific publications in English, which can be found in international journals (f.e. Psychology of Music, International Review of Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Popular Music etc.) available on Jstor or EBSCO on-line platform.

Is there a political or philosophical line that you tend to follow when having these studies in mind?

That’s a very good question. Many people think that with their thesis they can save the world or at least solve for example, a problem of unemployment. To be honest the goal of my thesis is purely scientific. However, my research deal with many subjects. One of them is music education. For more then 20 years it is a well known fact that the quality of music education is getting worse. It is obvious that it will show how music education in secondary schools look like from the adolescents’ point of view. Maybe it will bring some ideas for changes in the music education system, especially in the field of teaching about classical music. Some recent researches have shown that more then 50% of teenagers want to be more competent in the knowledge of classical music. Therefore maybe my research will bring answer to some practical questions, like for example, “How to teach classical music to make it attractive for youngsters?”, or “Should classical music be presented to the students in the same way as popular music?” and so on. There is a high probability that this research will uncover other useful information, but now – those related with music education seem to be the most obvious.

What’s the thesis that you want to prove / refute?

At this point, I am at the very beginning of my project. It will take me about 4 years to finish it. However, for the interview I had prepared a project underlining the main fields that will be explored in my research. There are three main issues:
1. Music preferences (preferred kind of music, artists, music style; their attitude towards verbal meaning of preferred songs / artists etc.)
2. Participation in music culture (when do they listen to the music? is music an important value in their life? which forms of music participation do they prefer? etc.)
3. All factors that determine and influence on music participation and life style: family, school, friends, media (especially Internet and TV) and economic condition (material status) of each individual.

Of course, even now I have some hypothesis in my mind, but still I need to broaden my theoretical knowledge and analyse the results of the empirical studies (made since 1970’s). After that I will be ready to propose proper hypothesis.

Did you pick the same theme in your master’s to study too? What was the subject and the name of your master thesis?

No. The subject of my MA thesis was “Students participation in Erasmus programme and mutual perception of representatives of different cultures (Polish – Portuguese).”

If it’s different of what you’ll do for the PhD, why is that so?

I changed to a subject of my interest. However, it doesn’t mean that I left behind my enthusiasm for Portuguese culture. The thing is at the moment I see no point in continuing this research. Although the relation between Poland an Portugal (not only Erasmus exchange) are increasing, the aren’t yet so intensive to do, for example, a quantitative research on a large scale. But yet, I am still observing this relation, and who knows, maybe one day I will make another research.

Was was the method you used to research for your MA?

For the empirical part I used the In-Depth-Interview. The mutual perception of Polish and Portuguese people has never been a subject of empirical studies in Poland. That’s why I wanted to obtain deepened and detailed information and options. For those reasons IDI seemed to be the best choice.

What were the greatest hardships and satisfactions you had while developing your MA thesis?

The greatest hardship was finding Portuguese students here in Poland. I wanted to have a “sex balance” in my sample and while searching for female respondents from Portugal I discovered that mostly boys are coming to Poland for Erasmus exchange. The greatest satisfaction was (and in fact still is) that my research is somehow “pioneering” – no one before had made such a study.

Was it easy to meet the deadlines? :-)

It is a little bit funny because the tutor of my MA thesis has never established any deadlines. I set deadlines for myself :)

How many people worked with you in it?

I had 9 respondents, but I used only 8 interviews for my thesis.

What were the conclusions you got from it?

The main findings are related to similarities and differences between Polish and Portuguese from the point of view of Erasmus students. Briefly, according to students, both nations are very similar in the way of seeing family in their life (important role), role of religion, and also both nations seem to treat their own country and work as important values in their life (also family is one of most important ones). The biggest differences have cultural backgrounds – different life style, different habits.

Did these results confirm or refute the idea you had in the beginning?

I had a lot of conclusions/findings after my stay in Portugal (from what I have observed), so before I have started my research I was expecting that what make a great difference between both nations is culture (especially life style). On the other hand, I was aware of some “core values” in both cultures which are more or less the same in Poland and Portugal – the great importance of family and religion and easily visible strong attachment to their own country and national culture (deep and strong national identification).

What was (or is) the main contribute of your research?

I think that the main contribute of my research is that I aroused (a little bit) people’s interest in Portuguese culture, and interrelations between Poland and Portugal. Once, I was at scientific conference where, apart from talking about my own research, I was presenting a reception of Polish culture and history in Portugal. For most of the Poles, Portugal is terra incognita. I was trying to show interesting facts and findings about both countries and their relations.