Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michelle Fine


Suzanne Ouellette

Committee Members

Stanley Aronowitz

Robert J. Lifton

Dennie Palmer Wolf

Subject Categories



The impact of participation in the "Creating Original Opera" (COO) program was investigated among two consecutive (1999 and 2000) cohorts of eighth grade inner-city students living in a context of chronic community violence. Four research questions were posed: (1) What are these students' experiences of violence? (2) What strategies, if any, do they employ to cope with violent events? (3) What, if any, of the above change over the duration of the project? (4) How might those changes relate (or not) to participation in the opera program?

Data collection included a series of three semi-structured interviews with randomly chosen students (N = 8 students each year, total N =16 students; 48 interviews). Observational field notes and supplementary sources including conversations with teachers and administrators, and writings produced by the students in both cohorts were used to complement and contextualize the data and analysis. Analysis was grounded in and emerged from the data. Themes, patterns, and recurring or unusual features were identified and sorted to identify patterns and processes related to the research questions. Data were examined in and across individuals over time.

Findings indicate that the experience provided by COO produced identifiable changes in students' feelings and behavior, including greater psychic integration, increased willingness to speak about traumatic experiences, improved academic performance, a new ability to imagine the future, and a capacity for challenging some sources of oppression. My analysis identifies certain features of the program, as implemented in the study site school, that appear to facilitate these changes. First, the program immerses students in the aesthetic realm—one in which categories and presuppositions can be examined and re-imagined. Second, students' operas directly represent and address the traumatic conditions of their lives. Third, the program engages students in collective activity that fosters cooperation, mutual trust, and a heightened sense of responsibility and agency. Ultimately, I argue, because the traumatic circumstances of these adolescents' lives are themselves a product of political conditions, and because the students' enhanced sense of agency is grounded in critical consciousness, the transformation they evince must be understood on a political as well as a personal and psychological level.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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