The 'Tar Sands Songbook': Music, memory and autoethnography in climate research
By now, the figure of the scholar/performer/activist is a familiar in ethnomusicology, but its gaze is often fixed on a distant place. As research processes and products, 'autoethnography' and 'research-creation' describe methodological and epistemological interventions. They challenge canonical practice by augmenting the kinds of questions we ask, the kinds of places in which we look for answers, the kinds of information we capture, and the kinds of perspectives we acknowledge in our research. In this paper, I discuss how autoethnography and research-creation shape my work on the Tar Sands Songbook, a multimedia theatrical performance that animates my research on the social-environmental impacts of oil development in my hometown of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. In my lifetime, rapid development of the Athabasca Oil Sands has transformed Fort McMurray into "the largest and most destructive industrial project on earth". This paper examines how I use my knowledge as an ethnographer, performer and citizen to drive a critical exploration of a challenged landscape and its diverse population. I discuss how my dual citizenship (at once, a native of a working-class, northern Canadian mining town and a citizen of an urban American intellectual and artistic elite) qualify my fieldwork in a place marked by sharp racial, class and political divides. Broad scientific consensus on the human causes of global warming has not effectively mobilized public action. This paper augments the literature on climate change communications by exploring how music, memory and performance invite a broader public into imaginative and intellectual encounters with climate research.