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Growing into music and dance in Mali


Rainer Polak

Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt, Germany


Evolutionary anthropology and psychology, cognitive science and educational science emphasize the role of instruction and teaching in the processes of social learning, which are fundamental for the emergence, maintenance, adaptation and creative development of cultural traditions (Michael Tomasello, György Gergely, Gergely Csibra, Michele Kline). This also applies to the field of musical cognition research, where, for example, the number of years of musical training is considered an indicator of expertise. In contrast, the cultural anthropology of childhood (David Lancy) and apprenticeship (Jean Lave) as well as cultural developmental psychology (Barbara Rogoff) tend to emphasize from a cross-culturally comparative perspective the role of informal, implicit learning that is largely embedded in social practices. Drawing on three decades of ethnographic fieldwork in Mali, and illustrating with photographic and video examples, this presentation shows that learning processes in traditional music and dance practices in Mali have a very high degree of consistency with the cultural anthropologists' and psychologists' theories of embedded social learning. I discuss how the contrast of these theories with those of evolutionary psychology might be partly explained by conceptual or methodological discrepancies, and what implications the views of the two "camps" might have for their respective counterparts.