Publishing “El Sistema”

I’m going to be using this blog a lot more in the coming months, once the book has been published, so please do check back in regularly. I hope readers will feed back their responses to the book here and we can discuss the issues raised. Although the book’s publication is the end-point of a long process for me, I also see it as a starting-point, launching a new phase of debate. I hope this site can become a public, democratic, critical forum of a kind that the Sistema sphere lacks but sorely needs.

I’ll also aim to clarify, expand, improve, and revise what I’ve already written in the book, so that the broader critical project keeps moving forwards. An academic book is a funny thing: it feels new to readers, but old to the author. Actually, bits of it may feel old even to readers: this book is based primarily on research in 2010-11 and I started writing it in 2011. Some of its points have become rather more obvious over the last three years, while others may have been superseded by events.

Turning to the other end of the writing process, I reached the point of no return with the book’s text in mid-July and I haven’t been allowed to change a word since. Yet I’ve learnt more about El Sistema since then: I’ve had fascinating conversations and heard great papers at conferences in Porto Alegre (ISME) and Cambridge (Venezuela Research Network), and I’ve read new books and articles and thought new thoughts, and I would have loved to include some of this in the book.


(As an aside, the Porto Alegre conference showed how far discussions of El Sistema have come in the last couple of years; the Cambridge conference – attended by leading Venezuelan thinkers on culture and politics – showed how far they still have to go. At Porto Alegre, there were no Venezuelans present; at Cambridge, three-quarters of the participants were Venezuelan, and there was unsurprisingly a gulf between the levels of understanding of El Sistema at the two events. I have already bemoaned the lack of Venezuelan Sistema representatives at ISME – are they the only people in the world who have nothing left to learn about music education? – but I now also feel that a debate about El Sistema that does not include at least one informed, independent Venezuelan voice is almost not worth having.)

To take a concrete example, Jonathan Govias started writing about El Sistema around the same time I did, and some of my quotations from his work are two or three years old. When I met him in Porto Alegre, it became apparent that his thinking had developed enormously. I immediately wanted to change the 2011 Jonathan in my book for the 2014 version, but it was too late – the book had gone into production.

It’s frustrating not to be able to include any of this in the book, which already feels out of date to me as a result. However, a major advantage of publishing in the digital age is that I can update my arguments on this blog, so I’ll assuage that frustration by writing more regularly here and sharing my latest discoveries and ideas, embarking on a conversation with my own book.

Please join in.

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