Music Workshops as Social Aesthetic Contributions to Cultivating Community Sensibilities

Cecilia Valentim
33 min readSep 2, 2022


Artigo publicado na Revista “Internacional Perspectives in Psychology”, Online: june 23, 2022

Arley Andriolo1 , Darrin James Hodgetts2 , Christopher C. Sonn3 , Cecília Maria Valentim Teixeira Coelho4 , and Marcelo Silveira Petraglia5

1 Psychology of Art Studies Laboratory, Department of Social Psychology, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil 2 School of Psychology, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand 3 Institute of Health and Sport, Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia 4 Escola da Arte do Ser Cantante, Sao Paulo, Brazil 5 Instituto Ouvir Ativo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Abstract: Human connection and mutual exploration through engagements in the arts, in general, and music, more specifically, have been core features of community life in many settings for millennia. The importance of such modes of collective engagement has also gained renewed interest among psychologists. This article explores the use of arts-based practice in Brazilian organizational settings. Embracing the theoretical perspective of the bricoleur, we adopt a social aesthetic perspective as a basis for considering the cultivation of a sense of community and togetherness through music workshops. Our focus is on shifts in the social sensibilities of participants as they engage with each other through music. This article contributes to qualitative research in community and critical social psychology, where a turn to community arts is gaining increasing traction. Keywords: arts-based research, social aesthetics, psychology and the arts, music, workshops.

Impact and Implications: This project relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in terms of the importance placed on issues of promoting health and well-being (SDG 3), decent work and economic development (SDG 8), and partnerships and inclusive participation (SDG 17)

Community and critical social psychology can be approached as heterogeneous and overlapping scholarly domains, within which emphasis is often placed on issues of praxis and the use of a range of modes of community engagement to foster human connectivity and shared experiences of solidarity (Hodgetts & O’Doherty, 2019). Community arts praxis involves artists, psychologists, and other practitioners collaborating with groups to promote dialog, mutual understanding, togetherness, affiliation, and solidarity (Leavy, 2020; Seedat et al., 2017; Sonn & Baker, 2015; Sonn & Quayle, 2014; Stein & Faigin, 2015). Community psychologists have recently drawn insights from the arts, in general, and social aesthetic elements, more specifically, to inform practical engagements with marginalized communities and to inform the cultivation of togetherness and advocacy work (Daher & Haz, 2011; Faigin & Stein, 2010; Madiyaningrum & Sonn, 2011; Stein & Faigin, 2015). In reflecting on community arts and social change, Sonn and Quayle (2014) propose that it is not the end artistic product that is the most important element of these engagements. Rather, it is the engagements between community psychologists, arts practitioners, and community members in dialog and the joint production of artworks, which is of central importance not only to artsbased practice but also efforts to theorize such work. Furthermore, it is not only the dialectics and conscientization that occur within arts-based community projects that is important, but it is also about the aesthetic processes involved and how the artistic forms produced are used to invoke the perspectives and lifeworlds of communities and how these experiences are brought into conversation with other groups and institutions that make decisions that affect their lives that is of core concern (Hodgetts et al., 2019). Focused more on research and less on community action, engagements with arts-based methodologies in critical psychology have also extended possibilities for exploring human experience in different social contexts (Leavy, 2020). In reflecting on work in this area, Chamberlain et al. (2018) propose that arts-based research encompasses all forms of artistic endeavors, from storytelling to visual arts and from poetry to music. These authors state that in arts-based research, meanings are to be inferred rather than conferred. Frequently, the point of arts-based research is not to answer questions or offer final interpretations of phenomena of primary concern, but rather to provoke questioning, deepen engagement, open debate, and inspire social action (Chamberlain et al., 2018, p. 133). This paper contributes to the expanding area of artsbased approaches in participatory and qualitative research in community settings by considering the application of a social aesthetic perspective to the development and conduct of music workshops as a novel form of knowledge production and participant’s engagement (cf. Chamberlain et al., 2018). Central is an effort to inform disciplinary understandings of the fundamental importance of human experience and dialog in arts-based scholar activism (Andriolo, 2020; Coelho & Andriolo, 2017). We conceptualize and approach the music workshops as social aesthetic enclaves within which sensibilities of solidarity and cooperation can be cultivated. Although we are primarily orientated by the concept of social aesthetics, no one theory or concept can enable us to understand these complex processes involved in the workshop engagements. As such, we have also drawn on the concept of bricolage, created by Levi-Strauss (1962) and developed subsequently into the ´ idea of a bricoleur researcher (Kincheloe, 2001), which involves piecing together insights from multiple sources to make sense of participant experiences of the complex human and social aesthetic interactions that emerge with the use of music to foster experiences of community and solidarity in particular organizational settings. Below, we conceptualize our phenomenologically based approach to social aesthetics and shifting sensibilities before outlining the Brazilian music workshops project that provides the core focus for this article. Our focus on these workshops is also important because, although regularly used in community and applied social psychology, workshops have not been studied as intensely as is warranted (Spink et al., 2014).

Conceptual Foundations in Social Aesthetics and Music-Based Experience

Aesthetics emerged as a branch of philosophy focused on the meaning and value of sensorial experiences related to self-contained works of art. Whereas aesthetics was originally concerned with individual perceptions and reactions to works of arts, the concept of social aesthetics was developed subsequently with a broader relational orientation toward how the meaning of art emerges as a sensitive embodied experience through interactions between people, artworks, and everyday environments. This broadening in focus reflects the realization that the aesthetic and the social are mutually constitutive. As such, it is important to look at both the form of an artwork and audience engagement, which are also embedded within social relations. Research into social aesthetics includes a focus on the influence of everyday engagements with the arts on the personal and shared sensibilities of participants (Thrift, 2008). Following Dewey (1934/2005), there has been a shift, a sole focus in aesthetics on the form of an artwork to include an additional focus in social aesthetics on the relational aspects of how people make sense art and the consequences this has for changing sensibilities (Kosnoski, 2005). As such, central to social or everyday aesthetics are sensibilities or feelings of connection and rhythm that come with dialectical, often tactile, and visceral engagements with art. In this article, we conceptualize sensibilities as intense experiences of, and complex emotional responsiveness to, aesthetic influences that emerge from social interactions. The concept of sensibilities encompasses the ability of human beings to engage meaningfully with art on emotional, tactile, and cognitive levels and how in doing so people develop understandings of their situations (Locke, 1690). In other words, a focus on sensibilities orientates us toward an exploration of how people develop a sense of their own situations and what is going on around them through arts-based engagements. By way of further background, research into social aesthetics in psychology reached an important moment in the late twentieth century, when researchers proposed the configuration of the aesthetic field as a triangle, in which the vertices are the artist, the artwork, and the audience (Frayze-Pereira, 1994, 2006). From this perspective, aesthetic experiences are conceptualized as a field of psychosocial relationships that encompasses acts of enjoyment, experiences of pain and pleasure, and the exploration of human needs. As the seminal social psychologist Dewey (1934/2005) proposed, social aesthetics can establish a rhythmic connection with the pulsating flow of life that can lead participants to transcend feelings of being apart from the world and other people and, in doing so, confer feelings of unity, meaning, and community. More recently, scholars have embarked on explorations of everyday aesthetic experiences as a basis for extending research practice (Miyahara, 2014; Saito, 2007). For example, Mandoki (2007) promotes a perspective that combines a focus on the arts as “Poetics” and on the broader field of everyday life experience as the “Prosaics.” In this context, the task for social psychology becomes the study of the intertwining dynamics between the artistic and the everyday (Mandoki, 2007, p. 51).

The concept of social aesthetics has also proved useful in broader social science inquiries into sensitive relationships between people, particular artifacts, and relational processes (Andriolo, 2021; Attwood, 2018; Escobar, 2009; Miyahara, 2014). As noted by Miyahara (2014), social aesthetics encompasses the production of aesthetic experiential spaces or enclaves for shared and intimate interactions and dialog where people can meet and share in aspects of their lives, a common region of intersubjectivity. Among a variety of perspectives, our orientation here follows the phenomenological approach to social aesthetics of Berleant (1999), where social aesthetics is approached as “an esthetic of situation” within which there is no artist: “creative processes are at work in its participants, who emphasize and shape the perceptual features, and supply meaning and interpretation.” (p. 157). This orientation usefully draws on phenomenology as a philosophy of consciousness experiences of objects or phenomena in the world as these appear to people. As such, phenomenology offers a useful perspective on links between social aesthetics and sensibilities as these relate to everyday human experiences of engagements with the arts in particular situations. Furthermore, as social performers, community participants contribute to the creation of the aesthetic features of the social situation in play, which we also approach as a shared enclave or space for mutual engagement, fun, and the cultivation of solidarity. Readers may recognize the creation of such shared spaces of engagement from experiencing music in the company of other people. Music is important for understanding social aesthetics because it does not exist in the abstract and can be understood as the basis of shared human experience, as a site-specific socioenvironmental process that is space and time bound. According to Berleant (2012, p. 34): Music is not an object, just as environment is not a place, separate from ourselves. Indeed, the common notion of environmental as outside, as surroundings, involves the same objectifying process as in taking music as an object … [A]s participants in musical experience, we become part of the music or, to speak more precisely, we are participants and, as we engage in the musical process we contribute a creative function. Music can engulf people in a shared aesthetic and interactional space and in ways that enable self-reflection, the realization of creativity and connectivity with others. Zuckerkandl (1973) also considers social aesthetic connection as a core function of music. Thereby, Zuckerkandl sees the ability to make music and to sing as innate to human beings and as a fundamental basis of connection, expression, and shared experience. In addition to being common elements of human existence and a perceptual phenomenon, music making is also shaped by the context, the culture, and the environment in which it is enacted. Music reveals an important dimension of social psychological relations and can aid scholars in comprehending the aesthetic dimensions of human experience, connection, and emplacement. Place-based (situated) engagements are also the starting point for Berleant’s social aesthetics, where human beings can grasp the qualities of the social world around them through musical and embodied sensory experiences. Berleant (1992, p. 19) notes: We not only see our living world; we move with it, we act upon and in response to it. We grasp places not just through color, texture, and shape, but with the breath, by smell, with our skin, through our muscular action and skeletal position, in the sounds of wind, water, and traffic. From this perspective, human environments are not formed solely by natural or physical elements alone. Rather, these are also comprised of and experienced as contextual situations that take shape through a complex nexus of relationships and practices that possess both natural and sociocultural aspects and which are reformulated through ongoing social interactions (Hodgetts et al., 2020). As such, music can comprise an important human technology for engaging people in the dialectics place making in community and organizational settings. Additionally, to experience oneself as a participant in such processes requires a dynamic interplay in sensibilities between the personal and the communal. Similarly, Berleant (1992) also proposes social aesthetics as a phenomenological approach to understanding the consequences of arts-based and socially situated interactions on human sensibilities and in doing so was inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Berleant’s orientation toward sensibilities is intended to extend understanding of the perceptual awareness that emerges when personal and social meanings emerge through emplaced social interactions. As we will show, this is important because human experience, in general, and musical experience, in particular, is a complex social phenomenon involving a number of factors, events, and conditions. Relatedly, Merleau-Ponty (2014/1945) asserts that the phenomenological world is the source of our sensibilities. Here, sensibility merges the experiences of one person with others through the enactment of dynamic relationships in space and time. Briefly, music-based experiences are particularly significant in foregrounding the dimensions of social aesthetic sensibilities and for considering how these sensibilities can be drawn on to cultivate community dialog, participation, mutual experiences, and sensibilities of solidarity. This paper is concerned with the use of music workshops in two Brazilian organizations as a strategy for providing people with opportunities to experience sensibilities of inclusion, solidarity, and community in a safe enclave from which to engage in dialog about social issues of concern to themselves and their communities. We are interested in the meanings people give to their participation in music workshops; how their participation contributes to personal, intersubjective, and collective development; and in what ways the workshops are experienced as opportunities for cultivating community sensibilities.

The Present Study

Over the last decade, our research network and community partners in Brazil have been exploring social aesthetics through the combination of projects within a range of community settings. This program of research encompasses several of the authors acting as facilitators in conducting various workshops. For this paper, we draw on insights gained from two such workshop-based projects designed to employ the medium of music to cultivate a sense of community, solidarity, and shared sensibilities. The first project was led by the third author and was designed to explore music making in the context of an educational program in three small factories (Petraglia, 2015). This project focused on the use of music for personal and professional development with a total of 40 freeadmission participants from different levels within the organizations. Participants aged between 27 and 56 years, with different sociocultural, educational, and employment backgrounds, had little or no musical training prior to the workshops. In total, 10 two-hour workshops were conducted in each of the factories over an eight-month period. In Project 1, the participant occupations in the factories included packers, salespeople, warehouse staff, marketers, administrators, seamstress, designers, production workers, financial managers, administrative assistants, and product developers. Their music experience was described by themselves most of all as “listeners,” a few of them “like to sing,” one sings in the Evangelical Church, and other in a classical choir, one played keyboard, another played the guitar, and one played the drums. The second project was led by the fourth author and focused on the use of singing to expand participant personal and collective sensibilities, self-perceptions, and modes of expression (Coelho, 2017). A series of workshops were hosted by a social service network that offers workers in Sao Paulo educational, cultural, and leisure activities. Twelve 2-hour workshops, involving 27 participants aged between 20 and 80 years with different sociocultural and employment backgrounds, were conducted over a period of 3 months. Project 2 participants were born between 1941 and 1985 with varying occupations, including technician, accountant, driver, metallurgical worker, teacher, financial supervisor, and social worker. In contrast to Project 1, most participants in Project 2 “liked to sing” and fewer participants described themselves as “listeners.” Two of the Project 2 participants also played the guitar, and one was a singer in nonprofessional choirs. The workshops for both projects were designed to encourage participation through practical activities, such as rhythmic exercises (imitation and improvisation), singing folk songs and simple canons, and playing several simple instruments (tuned gongs, pentatonic metallophones, tubophones made by PVC tubes, lire, and varied percussion objects). Many of these exercises encompassed body movement as a medium for self-expression and collaboration. The use of musical instruments in both projects enriched the songs rhythmically, melodically, and harmonically. Instruments were also employed to mediate communication between participants, especially in the various nonverbal dialog exercises that involved participants acting as an instrumental character in the creation of a musical story. The participative dynamics of the workshops generated a feedback process, as each participant compared their movement with that of their peers, so that group coordination could be established. Particularly in the second project, each participant was invited to provide a song that was part of their life memories and related to their relationship with their ancestors. The recovery and sharing of a meaningful soundtrack for each participant’s personal history contributed to the cultivation of an environment of trust, intimacy, relationality, and dialog. We employed several methods to document the two projects. These included one-on-one interviews at the beginning and again at the end of the workshops with all participants (n = 126 interviews). Interviews were employed as tools for circumscribing the workshop process, its beginning and ends, for considering shifts in participant sensibilities as well as offering other insights about participant experiences of music and the workshops. Participants were also encouraged to keep notebooks and record their experiences, perceptions, feelings, and reflections at the end of each session. The researchers also kept their own notebooks and video recordings of the workshops. At the last meeting, recorded group conversations also allowed participants to share their experiences. The groups were encouraged to present a choral performance during the final sessions. All these empirical materials informed our exploration of participant experiences of the workshops and associated shifts in their sensibilities.

We set up and entered the workshops in accord with Berleant’s (1992) phenomenological orientation toward social aesthetics and the emphasis placed on the political relevance of everyday life (see also Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Jung, 1972). From this perspective, the forms and meanings of human experience must be contextualized in relation to particular aesthetic interactions and shared sensibilities that flow from social aesthetic processes. This is because in phenomenological research what matters is the experience of phenomena as these appear to the participant (Moreira, 2002). As Langdridge states (2008, p. 1132), “The heart of all phenomenology is description of ‘the things in their appearing’ through a focus on experience ‘as lived’ and that remains true for all of the various methodologies that make up this particular qualitative family.”

Consistent with this phenomenological orientation and the orientating concept of bricolage, our interpretive work was anchored practically in iterative/dialogical readings of the interview transcripts and notebooks and at the same time by viewings of the workshop videos, reading researcher’s notebook, and considering insights from relevant theory and research. The participant’s notebooks became central to the emerging interpretation, where drawings, poems, and other forms of expression appear to the researchers. By observing the whole of this material, clues could be found, named, and used to bring insights into the functioning of the workshops. This iterative process of inquiry enabled us to establish reoccurring issues in the participant experiences that warranted further consideration. As noted above, our process was informed by the conceptualization of the researcher as bricoleur (Kincheloe, 2001) who engages in qualitative inquiry eclectically with the intent of producing an interpretation of participant experiences that links these experiences to theoretical abstractions and insights drawn from previous research. This interpretive process began with the researchers taking fieldnotes and was extended through the conduct and transcribing of participant interviews and then relating emerging issues to relevant theory and previous research from community psychology and the philosophy of the arts. It involved redrafting and discussing the interpretation through team engagements that brought further depth, insight, and nuances to our evolving understanding. This dynamic and evolving interpretive process began with an interest in how to employ music to cultivate community and participant engagement, which extended abductively to notions of aesthetic experience, sensibilities, and the cultivation of experiences of community. Over time, the focus coalesced around how the workshops seemed to function for participants as safe enclaves within which they could express and explore themselves and build and/or strengthen community ties with one another (cf. Seedat et al., 2017).

Our overall intent for the comprehension became constructing an interpretation or bricolage of participant experiences of the workshops and what these workshops can tell us about the creation of social aesthetic enclaves for dialog and cultivating community sensibilities. For the purposes of this article, among all meaningful clues, we focus on two central aspects of participant experiences of the workshops. The first is the social aesthetic dimension relating to participants’ changing sensibilities. The second is the sense of community that was cultivated through participation in the workshops.

Entering the Workshops: Changing Sensibilities

Common to participants entering the workshops was the sensibility that, despite enjoying the consumption of music in their everyday lives, they were not musical beings and did not feel comfortable with the idea of making music because they lacked the necessary talent and aptitude. The first observation of a shift in this sensibility documented in this section emerged with the recognition of their own musical abilities. The second relates to the reconnection of participants with music practice in their daily lives and more fully recognizing the humanizing functions of music for themselves and other participants. The third relates to space–time perceptions where participants came into the workshops with a sensibility of divisions between work time and place and leisure time and place. These interrelated observations show that workshop participants can experience music participation as a transformative experience about themselves, the others, and their communities. At the beginning, most participants stated frankly that they were not able to play music. This trope largely reflects the participants’ self-perception of musical (in)abilities in terms of a perceived distance from music practice and a lack of musical aptitude (Petraglia & Andriolo, 2018). For example, we registered the following statements from our initial interviews: With music, I never realize any gift or talent, I would love to play the guitar, I would love to learn to play, but I always have an excuse. (Vera, Project 1) Here, Vera offers a typical sense of self as someone who lacks the gift of music despite also voicing a desire to learn to play a particular instrument. In a similar vein, Lucy also refers to the gift of music as if it is not a universal talent among human beings, despite her appreciation of music: I don’t play any instrument. I don’t have this gift. Every Saturday I listen to my pagode, I go to the hill.

I’ve been listening since I was a child, I like rock music from the 70s. At home, nobody plays, but we always listened to the music. (Lucy, Project 2)

The use of the word “gift” in such extracts to express a perceived lack of musical ability is significant. The workshops afforded participants a supportive space in which they could experiment, explore, and attempt to play actual musical instruments and to sing. This space enabled participants to engage in musical practices that cultivated a realization through practical experience that they were musical beings. They could move beyond the consumption of other people’s music in their everyday lives to engaging in the creation of their own music with others.

Through musical practice in the workshops, participants not only recognized their musical abilities but also experienced a broader perspective on how they engage with music when conducting their everyday lives:

I never thought I can play an instrument. It was the first opportunity to understand what music means for me, let me free, with no shame, was very good. This helps me awake. When I will be washing dishes at home, instead to watch TV I will listen to the music. (Roberto, Project 1)

We see here an overt example of how the experience of engaging in a social aesthetic event flows on to a shift in sensibility, whereby Roberto comes to understand his musicality and what it means to him. For Roberto, the shift in sensibility is associated with a feeling of freedom from what he experienced previously as shame in not being a musical person. Similarly, in the following extract, Jaureze also comments on the positive feeling that can accompany such a shift in discovering one’s musical ability and feeling connected in this regard to everyone else:

It was amazing to discover that music is for all people, that everyone could develop your musicality. (Juarez, Project 1)

More broadly, through these changing sensibilities, we can see how the workshops offered a space for selfdiscovery in terms of one’s musicality and contribution to a group process. Participants were able to become more open about themselves and to share their feelings with others in a safe environment of play and discovery with others (cf. Daher & Haz, 2011; Seedat et al., 2017; Sonn & Baker, 2015; Stein & Faigin, 2015).

Another important change in participant sensibilities relates to space–time perceptions. In social psychology, the spatiotemporal dimension has become a central point for the phenomenological understanding of everyday life (Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Hodgetts et al., 2020). To the same extent, this dimension is seen as central to the aesthetics of everyday life (Mandoki, 2007). Our participants originally came into the workshops with sensibilities that separated or distinguished the time and place for real work in the employing organizations and the time and place for leisure, play, and more intimate self-reflection and disclosure. From participating in the workshops, they came to realize that they can be more relaxed and playful at work. What they realized about themselves was that their participation in music can also occur beyond the workshop space and into the workplace more generally and transfer into other domains of everyday lives. This shift in sensibilities opened tangible opportunities for further dialog regarding the permeability of the work environment and changes within themselves:

We would come [into the workshop], do what we had to do here and go down [back to work] singing. Spent the day singing, trying not to forget the lyrics. It was good, you came down a little different, more excited, keeping that singing euphoria. I went down differently. (Tereza, Project 2)

Tereza weaves the workshop event into the broader workplace environment through the connective tissue of music that transcends and combines both spaces with leisure and work time. Correspondingly, Tatiana invokes the enjoyment and enthusiasm participants experienced in anticipation of the workshop (“class”) that is juxtaposed with the time pressures of work and how she might realize her commitment to participate in the workshop and her work obligations. Other participants also talked about how the workshop experience enabled them to return downstairs to work in a more relaxed and improved state of mind:

The day we had the workshop, it was just like that, the expectation “wow, will have class, will have class.” Sometimes it was like “oh my god, there’s so much to do down here [at work] … am I going upstairs [to the workshop]?” I was worried about relating the two. Then, as I said, I did come upstairs with my head full and get downstairs totally relaxed. Then, as I had lived this experience once, I knew that if I came up here, even with a lot to do down there, I would go down better. (Tatiana, Project 2)

As these extracts indicate, the workshops promoted a shift from the standard way of thinking (sensibilities) about and functioning as workers within the workplace. Participants signal an initial perception of a distinction between the workshops and work but then come to integrate the two activities and to see the benefits of the workshops in the context of their experiences of work. It appears as if the musical activities and the relaxed atmosphere created in the workshops reconnected participants with aspects of themselves as happy social beings and brought a renewed disposition to the working day. In this context, several participants referred to the workshops as therapeutic moments (Petraglia & De Queiroz, 2013). In short, the references to the meeting space “up here” and the workplace “downstairs” carried a change in sensibility across the upstairs workshop and downstairs workspaces. Briefly, these shifts in aesthetic sensibilities accompanied participants not only within the workplaces where the workshops occurred also beyond the workplace and into other settings, including the home. This was particularly evident when participants reported now playing music while doing the dishes, taking up the practice of singing at home, and singing for other people (wives and husbands) within different everyday life spaces.

Being Us — Communing Through Music

Changing sensibilities were not restricted to the level of personal transformation in perspective. These also extended to an evolving sense of solidarity and interconnection as well. An important emergent aspect of the workshops relates to the sense of belonging, mutuality, and pleasure people derived from sharing in aesthetic musical experiences with other participants. Correspondingly, this section turns to these more overtly relational elements of participant experiences. We begin with aesthetic music-based experiences as a form of intimate engagement through which participants can realize one another more fully as complex human beings. The workshops stimulated participants to create and share images and songs, memories, and emotions. These exchanges opened a space for the cultivation of feelings of familiarity, belonging and connection, or a sense of community. We then consider participant reflections on the aesthetic space created by the workshops for mutual exploration and support. Within the shared production of music, listening to and watching others was central to experiences of connection and mutual understanding. Participants developed a refined sense of self and other participants as collaborating social agents who have a place in the cocreation of the workshop space. In activities such as listening to the singing of another person, participants also experienced connections with others who they recognized as complex human objects in the world with whom they could share elements of their personal histories and humanity. In the process, the workshops offered opportunities for communing that extend out beyond the recognition of other participants as social complex agents and into the invocation of shared histories and profound experiences of sharing common ground: Listening to the voice of Luciana’s grandmother singing really moved me a lot. I am a descendant of north-easterners and this song was always present in my childhood. Memories, feelings, joys and sorrows slowly emerging with the songs. Sounds, smells, tastes, everything comes out, everything belongs to me, everything is me. (Beth, Project 2) Through extracts, we can glimpse aspects of the dimensions of social aesthetics and shifting sensibilities and how the arts can move people to feel connections with one another. Below, Valeria also reflects on the benefits of ´ participation for the cultivation of feelings of harmony and inclusion: Well, what I can say is that these meetings have given me many benefits. Suddenly when I’m doing my daily walks I remember songs (and lyrics too), which were hidden in my memory. As for the class, I feel involved, singing with the others, because, although I like singing a lot, I do not have the courage to do it alone. And here I feel I’m in harmony every day that goes by. (Valeria, Project 2) ´ Interweaving images and songs, and memories and sensibilities, the workshops proved to be important for the sharing of personal stories and backgrounds within the group, contributing to the feeling of belonging to oneself and to a community. As can be seen in the notebooks, the movement of songs and music brought from the past experiences into the present. Here, we can see a trace for how workshops open a window into the experience of time in both long-term dimension of history and short-term dimension of everyday life (Spink et al., 2014). There was also a sense of completion or wholeness for participants who realized or felt their interconnections with others: I felt complete … in harmony with each member of the group … and the ability to feel joy, even with the melancholic songs. It is as if by singing them could tell ourselves and the world that it is possible to feel happiness and fulfillment in any situation in life. Even in those that seem different. (Monique, Project 2) The workshops provided opportunities for participants such as Monique to recognize their shared humanity and elements of their histories with others with whom they share a manner of being in workshops. When human beings perceive aesthetic objects or practices in the world, “what we are really sharing is a common region of intersubjectivity” (Mandoki, 2007, p. 56). The metaphor of “building together” invokes a sense of participation and community-making. Collectively making music and singing appears to have created an aesthetic field within which participants’ sensibilities were engaged in ways that produce intersubjective awareness and shared aspects of being (King et al., 2017). From participants’ notebooks, we found many reflections that communicated these sentiments: Another thing I feel is the possibility of contributing, building together. Bringing a song, a story, a poem. And everything, and us there, me and the other participants. We are part of the work and when we listen to others we also learn. We are moved, too. And the contact I have is only in the encounters … We have created bonds. It’s like the story experienced there is part of our life too. (Luci, Project 2) When people engage themselves in sharing music and singing together, each single action can become part of an extended whole perception and personal perceptions can merge with the perceptions of the others. This process comes close to what William James (1890) classically referred to in his Principles of Psychology as the stream of consciousness. In this sense, engagement in the workshops allows these participants to become aware of their sensibilities through an integration process merging the environment, images, sounds, the body, sensations, cognitions, emotions, and other persons. In sum, when community psychologists and musician allies create workshop opportunities for people to make music together, opportunities for human connection, reflection, and dialog emerge that can span personal differences and participants can experience themselves as community members. Instead of opposition and distance as was often the case in these workplaces prior to the workshop, participants experience cooperation and togetherness (Petraglia, 2015; Zuckerkandl, 1976). These experiences or realizations of mutuality and reciprocity allow our participants to overcome divisions, particularly between different levels of employees, and to contribute to the creation of collective enclaves. It is within these socially aesthetic spaces that are composed musically that experiential feelings of shared humanity, and togetherness can be awoken and aspects of the very being of participants can be woven together. In considering such modest shifts in sensibilities toward cooperation and togetherness, it is important that we avoid individualizing the previous situation of feelings of isolation and disconnection from others. The factory and service work contexts are important influences here because these environments have been shaped by Taylorism and scientific management practices that segment production and service work processes into discrete and apportioned tasks. Within such environments, it should not be a surprise that people experience dislocation and distance from one another as they are literally assigned as pressured and discrete widgets of production. Briefly, corresponding sensibilities of distance and separateness can be read as largely a response to environments that feature managerialist drives for efficiencies through confining individual widgets to narrow and repetitive activities. In this context, the music workshops offer insights into how we might put the relational pieces back together in such environments.


In this paper, we have considered the role of music workshops in shifting sensibilities and building a sense of community and solidarity in different Brazilian settings. As was noted by Sonn and Quayle (2014, p. 22), such artsbased endeavors center community participation and involve learning new skills, having fun, healing by sharing stories, and dealing with social issues. Our social aesthetics orientation offers a deeper understanding of how the use of arts in community praxis can facilitate the cultivation of positive relationships and a mutual sense of community. By drawing on Berleant’s phenomenologically based approach to social aesthetics, we can see the importance of a focus on sensibilities because originally aisthesis was “the science of sensitive knowledge.” From this perspective, we have explored the social aesthetic activity of music workshops in Brazilian workplaces and resultant sensibilities in terms of how people make sense of these workshops and how these cultivate a sense of shared practice, togetherness, and the recognition of commonalities. The approach orientates us toward the exchanges between employees and music as a sensitive form that is particularly apt for cultivating relational sensibilities in work settings that often manufacture distances between people. As facilitators of, and participants in, the workshops, two of us were engaged in this research through the phenomenological perspective of insiders, rather than that of the detached observer or evaluator. As facilitators and participants, we were engaged with participants in the workshops and attentive to the meanings that emerge from these engagements with music as a specific sensitive art form. This positioning aligns with community psychological approaches that advocate relational ethics and the importance of engaging one’s own senses in participative knowledge production processes (Hodgetts et al., 2021; Montero et al., 2017; Sonn & Baker, 2015). An associated shift here is from the traditional aesthetic concepts of contemplation and appreciation, which invokes a focus on individuals at a distance to a more relational and proximal orientation toward participation and engagement in cocreated aesthetic enclaves for community. Furthermore, the shift to social or everyday aesthetics orients us toward documenting and interpreting such issues of participation, dialog, and empathy in processes of community engagement and renewal. This is important in the context of the current disciplinary preoccupation with dehumanizing scientific and bureaucratic agendas in research that function to transform human experience into objects we call data that must be engaged with from a sterile or objective and distal perspective. Conversely, the phenomenologically based approach to social aesthetics adopted in this article orientates us toward a more proximal approach that involves working with communities participatively and which centralizes issues of human connection, solidarity, mutual understanding, and shared endeavor (Hodgetts et al., 2021). In a broader sense, community can be understood through research practices such as ours as involving aesthetic experiences, whereby spaces for sharing are produced and flow rhythmically through songs, beats, and stories into other domains of everyday life. Relevant here is Berleant’s (1997) concept of the aesthetic community, which is cultivated through participation in shared activities and through inclusive processes of reciprocity. This concept also speaks to aspects of classic scholarship in community psychology on sense of community as shared recognition, activity, and specifically shared emotional connection (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Following Berleant’s conception, collective art making can provide a sense of connection that illuminates the aesthetic meaning of the community and which provides a sense of continuity. Continuity, here, is exemplified by the internal relations stimulated by the connection between the members of the group, who experience themselves as being part of the community and united with the people who compose it. According to Berleant (1997, p. 148), “What makes such aesthetic continuity is the kind of unity that is described as a continuum of the body, of consciousness, of context, where all are united in the penetrating intensity of perceptual experience.” Along similar lines, Sawaya (2009) proposed that community can be approached as a permanent movement of creation through intersubjective experiences. The aesthetic communities cultivated through music workshops can transform personal experiences into shared or communal experiences, sounds, images, textures, and objects in the world. Central to such aesthetic communities is the cultivation of shared spaces or enclaves for engagement and dialog through which the groundwork for strengthening interpersonal ties, cooperation, and a sense of community can be cultivated. Within such enclaves, people can experience a sense of familiarity, comfort, belonging, and respite, while communing with others and feeling safe so as to be open and reflexive with others (Graham et al., 2017). Such enclaves manifest something special about music in terms of rendering workplaces, for example, more humane and habitable (Hodgetts et al., 2010). They contribute to the transcending of social distances between people who are colocated for a time somewhere. The creation of such enclaves in this research reminds us that music can offer places for people to dwell with each other for a time, to gain a sense of belonging, and for sharing in magical habits of mind and self-development (cf. Bull, 2000; Hodgetts et al., 2010; Thibaud, 2003). Briefly, engagements with music can change the feel of physical spaces in ways that open up possibilities to dialog through the establishment of a sense of us and safe common ground. In emphasizing the importance of such encounter spaces, this study sheds some new light on the importance of relational and spatial processes of emplacement within critical social and community psychologies (Hodgetts et al., 2020). Such enclaves offer spaces for cultivating positive human relations as a means of countering and working through the afflictions of hyperindividualized societies that often alienate and dislocate people from one another. Finally, the main conclusions emerging from the workshops point out the relevance of social aesthetics and sensibilities to community and critical social psychologies engaged in the current turn to the arts (Chamberlain et al., 2018; Leavy, 2020; Seedat et al., 2017; Sonn & Baker, 2015; Sonn & Quayle, 2014; Stein & Faigin, 2015). First of all, aesthetic experiences are central to the human condition, particularly in situating people within specific employment/ social environments. Second, aesthetic experiences also enable people to be together as part of a group and to create conditions for new dialogs. Third, the boundaries of social time and space between workplace and workshops fade away through shared music making. At the same time, new enclaves for positive social interactions and community are opened.


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Received April 19, 2021 Revision received April 19, 2022 Accepted April 23, 2022 Published online June 23, 2022


We acknowledge the support of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, Fapesp (Projects 2016/20164–6 and 2018/23585–8), and the Department of Social Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, Brazil), as well as the support of the Visiting Scholar Program (2018/2019) in the School of Psychology at Massey University (Albany, Auckland, New Zealand).


Arley Andriolo 

Arley Andriolo

Psychology of Art Studies Laboratory Department of Social Psychology Institute of Psychology University of Sao Paulo, Brazil 1721, Av. Prof. Mello Moraes, Bloco A Cidade Universitaria, São Paulo, SP / CEP: ´ 05508–900 Brazil



Cecilia Valentim

Cecília Valentim é cantora, psicoterapeuta somática e educadora vocal. Doutora e Mestre em Psicologia da Arte pelo IPUSP. Licenciada em Música pela FASM.