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Mapping music and nuances in penal exceptionalism from the periphery.

The illustration shows a note, barbed wire and the geographical perimeter of Ireland, Iceland and Norway.

Ilustration: Áine Mangaoang.

About the project

Music is an integral and vital part of human life in times of joy and triumph, as well as in times of crisis and isolation. PRISONS OF NOTE will investigate the experiences of, circumstances surrounding, and approaches to music and imprisonment in the lives of prisoners, staff, and stakeholders. 

The project will examine the relationship between prison music – including music education, music therapy, music-making and listening initiatives – and the sociocultural, political, ethical and aesthetic implications of this creative practice from multiple perspectives. Using an international, comparative approach grounded in empirical research, the project maps the nuances and asymmetries in penal exceptionalism from smaller, peripheral jurisdictions within the global West, to untangle the ways music is used –and is useful– in prison.

PRISONS OF NOTE builds on recent scholarship from musicology and comparative penology, drawing from models of prison ethnography, sociology and ethnomusicology, led by a musicologist PI and a diverse research team of criminologists & sociologists. This significant, ambitious project compares prison music experiences in smaller jurisdictions of penal exceptionalism – places that have been largely overlooked in comparative criminological and musicological discourse in favour of an Anglo-American bias.

As we tackle rising incarceration rates around the world, this project is unique in that it collects qualitative data from prison case studies in Norway, Iceland and the Republic of Ireland in order to contribute new, interdisciplinary knowledge on how music is used and is useful in prisons from a peripheral perspective. Thus PRISONS OF NOTE will change how we study music and imprisonment, from isolated, single-nation case studies to connected, transcultural experiences that transcend national borders, that gives a special voice to experiences of penal exceptionalism and prisons of note.

The project addresses the central questions:

  • What is the relationship between music and imprisonment in cultures of penal exceptionalism?
  • What are the aesthetic, sociocultural, and political implications of music and imprisonment?


The project objectives are:

  1. to deliver new knowledge on the experience of prison music from a peripheral perspective;
  2. to strengthen understanding on how the cultural conditions of music in prison affect those imprisoned, as well as prison officers, music facilitators and wider society;
  3. to unpack how music activities foster unique pathways to citizenship for prisoners who’s fundamental status means certain rights have been denied.


Research Council of Norway, FRIHUMSAM, Unge forskertalenter. Nr. 315759



09.05.2022 to 08.05.2025.

Selected publications

Mangaoang, Áine (2021). “A reward rather than a right”: Facilitators’ perspectives on the place of music in Norwegian prison exceptionalism. Musicae Scientiae, Vol. 25(3) 274–289. 

Published June 23, 2022 12:21 PM - Last modified Oct. 31, 2022 4:26 PM