Disability and the ideology of ability: How might music educators respond?

Warren N. Churchill, Cara Faith Bernard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How might identity and identity politics inform music teachers’ practices and assumptions about disability? In this article, we engage in a critical discussion about how music educators might respond to disability. This article is presented in three parts as a collaborative dialogue between the two authors, using the landscape of identity politics to frame the discussion. In the first part, Warren Churchill discusses Tobin Siebers’ theorizing of “the ideology of ability” as it relates to music education’s dominant response to disability. Building on his idea of “complex embodiment,” Siebers lays out a justification for disabled individuals to actively engage in identity politics for self-advocacy. Churchill connects Siebers’ ideology to Joseph Abramo’s epistemology of sound. In the second part, Cara Faith Bernard makes a counter-argument against deploying identity politics in the music classroom, drawing upon Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s notion of strategic essentialism to examine its potential risks with regards to music education curricula, in which essentialism may lead to establishing detrimental “best practices” for students. Thereafter, in Part Three, the authors join together to make sense of these seemingly contradictory philosophical outlooks on identity politics, in the hope of furthering conversation about music education’s ongoing response to disability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-46
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophy of Music Education Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Disability studies
  • Identity politics
  • Ideology of ability
  • Music education
  • Strategic essentialism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Philosophy
  • Music


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