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Reinventing the wheel (and other cultural tools): The concepts of mediation and mediational means in Nordic music education research

Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet)
Författare Niklas Rudbäck
Publicerad i 25th conference of the Nordic Network for Research in Music Education (NNMPF), 3–5 March 2020, Danish School of Education, Copenhagen, Denmark
Publiceringsår 2020
Publicerad vid Högskolan för scen och musik
Språk en
Ämnesord music education; mediation; mediational means; cultural tools; artefacts; sociocultural theory; activity theory; Vygotsky; literature review; theory use
Ämneskategorier Musikpedagogik


In music education research, as in educational research in general, one frequently encounters analyses using the theoretical concepts “mediation” and “cultural tools,” “artifacts” or “instruments” (henceforth I will use mediational means to refer to the latter three). These concepts are usually ascribed to L. S. Vygotsky, although Vygotsky’s influence is often filtered through sociocultural theory (e.g. Wertsch, 1994; Rogoff, 2003), or activity theory (e.g. Engeström, 1987). The influence of these theories is not limited to the field of music education, nor to the Nordic countries, but mirrors international (or at least, anglophone) developments in the field of educational research since the 1970’s (Hargreaves & Lamont, 2017; Miller, 2011; Valsiner & van der Veer, 2000). The purpose of this paper is to review and critically discuss the use of the concepts “mediation” and “mediational means” in the field of music education research in the Nordic countries. My interest in this issue originally stems from working on the literature review for my (ongoing) dissertation project. Since I use these concepts in my own research, I took note of the wide variety of phenomena that were categorized as mediational means in studies claiming a Vygotskian theoretical framework (widely defined), and started keeping a list of examples that appeared to stretch the bounds of the theory. In this paper, I expand upon these informal observations in a systematic manner by (i) using a search strategy that is not limited to my own dissertation topic; (ii) using a systematic classification scheme and; (iii) situating the use of the concepts in a historically informed discussion of their role in relevant theoretical frameworks. Such a review and critical discussion could contribute to a better understanding of the state of Nordic music education as a field of research, to more nuanced comparisons of results between studies using similar terminology in slightly different ways, and to theory development in our field. Drawing on examples from articles and dissertations on music education-relevant topics, published in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark during the last decade, I will sketch out three related areas of tension in how the concepts “mediation” and “mediational means” are used: 1. The distinction between mediator and mediated 2. The conceptualization of unmediated activities and relations 3. The distinction between (physical) tools and signs I will argue that 1 and 2 leads to a proliferation of things classified as mediational means, which undermines the explanatory value of the model of mediated activity at the heart of these theoretical traditions. I will also argue that 2 and 3 creates difficulties with conceptualizing learning, which creates a need to reinvent the wheel by reintroducing the tool-sign distinction in other theoretical terms.

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