James Nissen

Email: james.nissen@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk or james_nissen@hotmail.co.uk


Previous Education

Mus.B. in Music – University of Manchester – 2010-2013 – First Class Hons, Keith Elcombe Prize, Hargreaves Prize.

M.A. in Ethnomusicology – University of Manchester – 2013-2014 – Distinction.

Thesis Title

Unveiling WOMAD’s human face: towards a critical ethnography of WOMAD



Prof. Caroline Bithell

Dr. Roddy Hawkins


Research Summary

My research develops the first critical ethnographic examination of WOMAD (World Of Music, Arts & Dance), the largest international music festival in the UK. It explores WOMAD’s history, its programming, its meanings for participants and its post-festival impact. It examines WOMAD musically, socially, culturally and politically across historical, structural and experiential levels. It draws on a multimodal approach that combines ethnographic fieldwork with archival research, data analysis, narrative analysis and other methods. It aims to envoice the perspectives, experiences and stories of WOMAD participants, including musicians, attendees and organisers, aspiring to unveil WOMAD’s human face.


In doing so, it offers a rationale for a new approach to international music research, tying in with emerging directions that attempt to move beyond the polarised scholarly discourse of the so-called ‘world music debate’. It also engages with wider debates on music globalisation, music communities, intercultural aesthetics and political strategies in music, reflecting on issues across a range of disciplines including ethnomusicology, anthropology, sociology, music festival studies, intercultural studies, music education studies and music and gender studies. In line with applied ethnomusicology, it also hopes to develop suggestions for festival organisers, grounded in research findings and in research participants’ experiences.


Research Interests

International music, music festivals, music education, music and gender


Research Collaboration

During 2016-2017, I undertook a placement with music venue and charity Band on the Wall, funded by the NWCDTP, where I produced educational materials for the general public on a set of traditional musics and cultures around the world for their ‘Guide to the World of Music’ (www.guidetotheworldofmusic.com) and prepared liner notes on a collection of Jamaican songs and stories for a music revival project.


I am a founding member and the executive secretary of the Music, Education and Social Inclusion ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music) Study Group (www.ictmusic.org/group/music-education-social-inclusion) and have been involved in organising international symposia in London (2017), Beijing (2018) and Puerto Rico (2020).


Conference Presentations


I have presented at conferences of the ICTM, BFE (British Forum for Ethnomusicology) and RMA (Royal Musical Association) and at the International Doctoral Workshop in Ethnomusicology at the University of Hildesheim. Presentations have included:

  • ‘Music, Education and Social Inclusion: Challenges & Opportunities [panel]’, ICTM World Conference, Chulalongkorn University, 2019.
  • ‘Producing a Gender Agenda: How can we develop gender equal curricula? [workshop]’, ICTM MESI Symposium, Central Conservatory of Music Beijing, 2018.
  • ‘Local Voices, Global Conversations: Transnational Feminism at WOMAD’, ICTM World Conference, University of Limerick, 2017. Attendance funded by NWCDTP Conference fund 2017.
  • ‘Approaching WOMAD [workshop]’, International Doctoral Workshop in Ethnomusicology, University of Hildesheim, 2017. Attendance funded by NWCDTP Conference fund 2017.
  • ‘(En)Gendering Intercultural Spaces: (Re)Presentations of Gender at WOMAD’, ICTM Music and Gender Symposium, University of Bern, 2016. Attendance funded by NWCDTP Conference fund 2016.

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