Skip to Content

The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice




Professor Fiona Magowan
Professor of Anthropology and Ethnomusicology (HAPP) | The Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Securit

View Profile

An £800,000 award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice is funding a unique project –

The role of sound, narrative, music-making and digital media in conflict transformation.


The research, led by Professor Fiona Magowan, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, is being conducted in the Middle East, Brazil and Northern Ireland but the seeds for the project were sown in a very different region – the Northern Territory of Australia.

Fiona was educated at the universities of Nottingham and Oxford in Music and Social Anthropology. She was awarded a D.Phil at Oxford in 1995 where her Australian research began.  

She says, ‘As a musician and an anthropologist, I’m passionate about the significance of music in social life. I carried out research in North East Arnhem Land, in a small island community called Galiwin’ku, with Yolngu people who express their connections to land in ritual performance. I wanted to understand women’s songs and their relationship to men’s song performance, since beliefs, emotions and cultural rights are vested in their ritual language of the environment.’  

More recent research has looked at the domestic moral economy, the implementation of policy on Aboriginal livelihoods and its impact on labour and cultural production, sustainable economy and senses of wellbeing.  

She asks, ‘In the midst of customary, market and neoliberal economies in which Yolngu now work, how do you reconcile concepts and practices of productivity over processes that support and sustain people’s relationships with one another? This is where you can get value conflicts coming in.  

‘Ritual is central to life events and Aboriginal performance of the Law. Indeed, for many societies performance is a means of peacemaking and peace-keeping. We want to explore how sound, music and narrative mediate and transform relationships in situations of protracted conflict or societies emerging from conflict.’  


The new AHRC project involves four coinvestigators: Professor Pedro Rebelo (Director, Sonic Arts Research Centre), is a composer, sound artist and performer, whose research focuses on Brazil; Professor Beverley Milton- Edwards (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics) will research counternarratives to ISIS through popular music; Dr Julie Norman (Queen’s Research Fellow, Mitchell Institute) will be working with music and media among Syrian and Palestinian refugees; and Dr Stefanie Lehner (School of Arts, English and Languages) is analysing the dramatisation in Northern Ireland theatres of issues relating to the conflict and the way different voices come into play.  

Fiona says, ‘The art of peace-building is the art of compassion and performance enables that compassion to be manifest. I will be looking at Musicians Without Borders, an international organisation with training programmes based in Derry, who are using music to bring together those affected by conflict. We’ll be exploring how the use of music can impact upon and potentially transform lives, as well as open up new spaces of engagement to alleviate trauma.’  

Material collected throughout the project will contribute to a final sound-art installation and exhibition to be showcased in Derry and Rio de Janeiro.  

Fiona says, ‘We will analyse the complexities of how music makes transformations possible and what is realised and experienced in these engagements. What kinds of processes are involved? To what extent are societies being transformed and how?’ 

In her teaching, she says, ‘I try to expand students’ cross-cultural awareness of how senses and emotions in performance influence identity and relationships in various ways to show that conflict transformation and peacebuilding are ongoing processes. It’s about learning how we can live better together through nuanced understandings of others around the globe.’

Learn more about the groundbreaking work taking place at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice