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Photo of Professor Tia DeNora

Professor Tia DeNora

BA (West Chester), M.A., PhD (UCSD)

Professor (Sociology of Music)


01392 723280

Amory 317

In company with the SocArts Research Group at Exeter, my research examines how culture is made and how it informs activity and experience in real places and in real time. 

Within that focus, I work as a music sociologist, mostly focused on health and wellbeing. I work in the area of sociological theory but am very committed to empirical research and to the values of 'gentle empiricism' and 'slow' sociology.

My current research is ethnographic and uses micro, often split-second micro, techniques of observation. It's set within a range of scenes of care - from a flagship hospice to a care facility for people living with different forms of neuro-disability (primarily dementia). It examines the complex processes involved as people find ways of existing and being creative in extremis, and music's role within this process. We're interested in the sounds of music making and the ways these are experienced by residents and clients, visitors, and staff. (For example, what can count as 'beautiful' music and what bearing does such a question have on opportunities for action and wellbeing and - more critically - for who can do or be what, where and when). We are also very interested in what each person brings to the collective music making and how adaptations, technical innovations, and 'good enough' attempts at musical gesture and sound get blended into the whole sound matrix and in ways that sometimes lead to new things - new musical values, new ideas, new understandings (of issues but also of people) and new relationships. This project is funded by the AHRC (Care for music: an ethnography of music in late life and end of life settings). It runs from May 2019 to May 2022. We are collaborating on this research with Professors Randi Rolvsjord and Wolfgang Schmid at the Grieg Academy, University of Bergen, Heather Edwards of Music Mirrors, and project partners at the flagship, Earl Mountbatten Hospice, Isle of Wight. For more information see the Care for Music Website.

A book entitled, Hope: 'the dream we carry' (Palgrave Macmillan -published in April 2021) is one outcome of this project. 

With my collaborator, Professor Gary Ansdell, I was involved in a longitudinal ethnography of mental health and community music therapy. We think that this is probably the longest longitudinal study in the area - over ten years.

The findings from this project fed in to a three volume book project. 

Vol 1, Tia DeNora, Music Asylums: Wellbeing Through Music in Everyday Life

Vol. 2, Gary Ansdell,  How Music Helps in music therapy and everyday life

Vol. 3, Gary Ansdell & Tia DeNora,  Musical Pathways in Recovery

In September 2022 I began a new  project (Island Life and Death). Funded  by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, it explores how communities face death, dying and bereavement and how they build cultures to support that project. The work is in partnership with Mountbatten Hospice, Isle of Wight. 

I've alsobeen  involved in an Australian Discovery Grant project with a team led by Professor Jane Davidson on music and inter-cultural understanding. This has been adapted, during C-19 to examine these issues in relation to online music making and, starting in September, a Norwegian Research Council project (Prof Claire Ghetti, University of Bergen, PI) examining music in relation to the parents of neonatal infants.

Finally, I am working with Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra - both as a new (and very much beginnier - relearning flute after 40 years) member of the orchestra, and as a member of their research team. We are preparing a book about online improvisaiton for Oxford University Press.  The team is led by Professor Raymond MacDonald at the Uni of Edinburgh (music psychologist and saxophonist), and includes Dr Rob Burke at Monash University (jazz studies and saxophone), Dr Maria Sappo Donahue (pianist, improviser artist based in Huddersfield Uni) and artist/film maker Ross Birell (Glasgow School of Art). 

The SocArts journal, Music and Arts in Action (MAiA), founded by PhD students and postdocs from SocArts is now in its 14th year. The most recent issue can be found here:

SocArts celebrated its tenth anniversary in May 2016 with the international symposium, The Pebbles in the Pond

SocArts has hosted many seminars and workshps. These have included a Masterclass in Ethnographic Methods with visitors from University of Bergen, Japan, and Nordoff Robbins, several visits from colleagues from Kobe University, and a writing symposium.



Research interests

I'm very involved with music therapy - which for me is like a natural laboratory for watching music 'in action'. I am also active as an editor and editorial board member - please check out the Routledge Series Music & Change: Ecological Perspectives. I serve on the editorial boards of: British J of Music Education, Qualitative Research and I am an Advisory Member of Cultural Sociology.

My current funded research projects are:

Co-I on MARCH; Social, Cultural and Community Assets for Mental Health (1.25m): PI Dr Daisy Fancourt, UCL; Co-Is: Prof Kamaldeep Bhui (Queen Mary University London), Prof Helen Chatterjee (UCL), Prof Paul Crawford (U Nottingham), Prof Geoffrey Crossick (School of Advanced Study, University of London), Prof Jane South (Leeds Beckett University)

PI on Care for Music: an ethnography of music in late life and end of life settings (487,531), Co-Is: Prof Gary Ansdell, Exeter, ProfRandi Rolvsjord, and Prof Wolfgang Schmid, Grieg Academy, University of Bergen)

Earlier funded research: I was a Co-I on an AHRC project on music, empathy and cultural understanding with Prof Eric Clarke (PI) and Dr Jonna Vouskski (PI), Oxford. I continue to explore questions around cultural media and atmosphere and split-second decision making processes.


Research supervision

Sociology of Music, Music Sociology, Arts Sociology

I supervise work in the area of arts sociology. That includes anything from studies of music consumption, distribution, production, to studies of creativity, to historically-based studies of music and social change. 


I've had the great pleasure of working with some exceptionally talented PhD scholars over the years. See the Socarts pages for more info on who, what, when, where and where they are working now.

Research students

Recent PhDs (listing only scholars where I was first or sole supervisor):

Dana Wilson-Kovacs. Thesis: Sexual Intimacy as Aesthetic Practice: An ethnographic investigation of women, pleasure and everyday life (Degree Awarded, 2005, now working here in Exeter as a Lecturer in Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies in SPA)

Kari Batt-Rawden. Thesis: Everyday musical activity and health promotion (Degree Awarded, 2007, now working as a Full Time Researcher, East Norwegian Research Institute)

Sophia Krzys Acord (USA). Topic: Artistic Gatekeeping, Tacit Knowledge and Taste (Degree Awarded, 2009)   Honorable Mention in the American Sociological Association's Annual Dissertation Award  2010 now Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Florida

Arild Bergh (Norway/UK). Topic: Music and Conflict Transformation (Degree Awarded, 2010, now working as a Researcher for the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment)

Ian Sutherland (Canada). Topic: Composers' strategies in Nazi Germany (Degree Awarded, 2010, Director of Postgraduate Studies, Bled Business School)

Trever Hagen (USA). Topic: Music in the Prague Underground, 1968-1989 (Degree Awarded, 2012, now a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow here at Exeter

Sigrun Lilja Einarsdottir (Iceland). Topic: Amateur Bach Choirs: the concept of 'choral capital'  (Assistant Professor, Bifröst University, Sociology)

Pinar Guran (Turkey). Topic: Music and cultural memory in Diaspora: the Kreuzberg experience, Wertheim Fellow, NYPL 

Mariko Hara (Japan). Topic: Music, Well-being and the Elderly - the case of Singing for the Brain. Postdoctoral Fellow, Hedmark University, Norway.

Simon Procter (UK) Topic: Music Therapy's Craft. Director of Education, Research, Quality, Nordoff Robbins Centre for Music Therapy. 

Craig Robertson (UK). Topic: Music and Conflict Resolution in Song-writing workshops (Currently also working as a Research Fellow, University of York)

Pedro dos Santos Boia (Portugal, FCT). Topic: The social identity of the Viola and Violists, 1780 to the present. Postdoctoral Researcher, Porto, Portugal

Elizabeth Dennis (UK). Topic: Action Research on Music and Dementia (see )

Rita Gracia Alberto (Portugal, FCT). Topic: Portuguese Women Rockers - identity, networks and the care of self


Current PhD students in the areas of sociology of arts and music sociology are:

Rosanna Mead (UK) Music in Gerontological Hospital Wards

Sergio Sorcia Reyes (Mexico) Narcocorridos: music mediation geyond the Mexico-USA borderlands

Eva Schurig (EU) Personal Listening, Space and Scenic Features


 For more information see:

And for the on-line journal, founded by  former students, see:

External impact and engagement

 I engage with music therapy researchers, practitioners and trainees on a frequent basis. There has been mutual exchange of ideas between us and at Exeter within SocArts we frequently host events with and for and featuring music therapists. I also contribute, occasionally, to media coverage of music in society, most recently a feature on background music for Radio 3's, The Listening Service:  


My undergraduate studies were in music (my major instrument was flute) and sociology at West Chester University in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I completed my PhD in Sociology in 1989 at the University of California San Diego. From then until 1992, I worked at University of Wales Cardiff (where I was a University of Wales Fellow from 1989-91). I moved to Exeter in 1992. I have been a Fellow of the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology since 2004 and recently was elected Fellow of the British Academy. I've served as Chair of the ESA Network on Arts Sociology and on various councils of learned societies, editorial boards and the 2008/2014 national Research Excellence Framework sub-panel for Sociology. With Gary Ansdell, I currently co-edit of the Routledge Series on Music & Change: Ecological Perspectives. 

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