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Faculty of Music


Prof. Angela Impey (SOAS, University of London)

Towards an Ethnomusicology of Peace Jurisprudence

This paper considers the contribution of music (and sound studies more broadly) to current discourses about alternative frameworks for transitional justice. It responds to an increasing appeal for legal pluralism and reflects on the challenges and opportunities that traditional justice strategies pose for many of the fundamental assumptions that underlie post-conflict rule-of-law work. The paper argues that while global instruments such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the 2015 (2030) Sustainable Development Goals may offer universal moral benchmarks and provide critical coordinates for future imaginaries, hegemonic power, as reflected in institutional structures and communication systems, has been slow to accommodate their peace and justice agendas. Equally, while they may exert influence on international law and socio-economic policy, their legitimacy as platforms for action are seldom attuned to local cultural practices. 

This paper reflects on how knowledge that is generated through sound and performance may be brought into productive engagement with the highly prescribed, technocratic processes that dominate mainstream post-conflict interventions. Drawing on the case of South Sudan, a country that has only recently emerged from half a century of civil war with (the previously north) Sudan, but remains deeply destabilized by internecine violence, it considers the use of songs by Dinka and Nuer pastoralists as judicial instruments of truth-telling, listening, and conflict resolution. It further deliberates on their instrumentality in the 1999 Wunlit peace conference, a ‘people-to-people’ initiative that remains credited as the most successful peace meeting in the history of the Sudans. By bringing attention to how truth and reconciliation are culturally orientated, enacted (sounded), and legitimized – conceptualised here as an ethnomusicology of peace jurisprudence – the paper reflects on what opportunities might exist for translating ontologies across sociocultural-legal regimes and how these might advance global struggles for human rights and justice more broadly.

Angela Impey is Professor of Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London. Her research addresses music as orality, history and political testimony, with a specific focus on post-conflict social integration, land, gender, and climate justice in southern Africa and the African Horn. She is author of the multi-award-winning 2018 monograph, Song Walking: Women, Music and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland (Chicago University Press) and has recently co-edited the Routledge Companion on Music and Human Rights (2021). Her current research focuses on ethno-ornithology, soundscape ecology, and climate adaptation across the eastern Africa-Eurasia flyway.   

Wednesday, 24 May, 2023 - 17:00 to 18:30
Event location: 
Lecture Room 2, Faculty of Music