Tobias Malm
Works at Department of Education
Telephone 08-120 763 46
Visiting address Frescativägen 54
Room 1524
Postal address Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Tobias Malm has his background as a music teacher and rock musician. He has his doctoral and master's degree in Education and parts of his teacher education from this department and has also studied at Stockholms Musikpedagogiska Institut (Stockholm Institute of Music Education), Musikhögskolan i Piteå (Piteå College of Music) and Luleå Tekniska Universitet (Luleå University of Technology). He is affiliated to the research environment of Organisationspedagogik (organizational pedagogy) and teaches courses that in various ways connect to people’s learning in and by organization of all kinds.


Tobias teaches in the courses "Organization and Change" and "Organizational Pedagogy - An Introduction


Tobias's research interest revolves around learning and organization with a focus on musicians and music life. The ongoing dissertation project in Education explores musicians’ learning processes in which they form small organizations together.

Sweden has a rich and internationally successful music life that spans a wide area between civil society, education and music business. Music life not only enriches the nation’s cultural and creative industries, but also provides an important source for many people’s well-being and self-realization.

The music life largely consists of small self-organized groups outside the formal institutions and under the media’s “radar”. Despite, or perhaps because of it, there is relatively little research on these groups’ everyday lives. Existing research notes that they often strive for a public breakthrough but few succeed. Internal conflicts and lack of commitment constitute a constant threat to the activities. But we still have limited understanding of how people in these settings learn to operate and be productive together and what the biggest challenges are.

The dissertation’s preliminary aim is to develop knowledge about musicians’ learning processes in which they form small organizations together. The basic assumptions are informed by the social constructivist thought tradition and many of the analyses are based on Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s theory of learning. The starting point is that organizations are constituted of the members’ cooperation and conceptions and that these are formed and negotiated in ongoing organizing and learning processes. The three featured sub-studies focus on rock bands and explore band members’ forming of practices and identities – as integrated aspects of learning – and challenges associated with it.

The empirical material is generated and treated with a qualitative and ethnographically inspired approach for 4 years. Stockholm-based rock bands with various ambitions and success have been studied based on observations of rehearsals, meetings, online chats, live shows and social media, as well as interviews with band members individually and in groups. The results are reported in three different articles – one per sub-study – of which the first is published (Malm, 2017) and the other two are being completed.

The dissertation can contribute to better understanding of the specific conditions of music life, but also to research on organizational life more generally. The primary target groups are band and group members, popular education (studieförbunds-) and folk high school staff, music business and cultural and creative entrepreneurs, and teachers in business.



Malm, T. (2020), Konsten att hålla ihop. Om lärande och organisering i rockband [The art of keeping together. On learning and organizing in rock bands, doctoral dissertation]. Stockholm: Stockholm University, Department of Education.

Malm, T. & Schoug, A. (2020), "Studieförbundens populärmusikverksamhet – En plantskola för vad?" [Popular music within popular education – A Nursery for what?], in Hill N. & Schoug A. (eds.), Lärande i civilsamhället [Learning in the civil society], Stockholm: Trinambai, pp. 81–120.

Malm, T. (2020), Learning to develop as a rock band: The contradiction between creativity and entrepreneurship. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 25, 100379.

Malm, T. (2019), "Från album till låtar: tio år med Spotify" [From albums to songs: Ten years with Spotify], i Ovesson, C. (red.), Starka tillsammans. Tjugoen nulägesbilder av civilsamhället [Strong together. Twenty-one images of present civil society], Stockholm: Trinambai. pp. 199–208.

Malm, T. (2018), ”Recognizing the practitioner-self: Lessons from studying rock bands at-home”, Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 7 Issue: 2, pp.135–146.

Malm, T. & Thunborg, C. (2018), "Från källarband till småföretag – kreativitet och entreprenörskap i popband" [From garage band to small business – Creativity and entrepreneurship in a rock band], in Granberg, O. & Ohlsson, J. (eds.), Den lärande organisationen 2.0 [The Learning Organization 2.0], Lund: Studentlitteratur. pp. 99–127.

Malm, T. (2017), “Becoming a rock band: The challenges of group identity”, Journal of Popular Music Education, 1:2, pp. 165–182.

Malm, T. (2015), Organiseringsprocesser i ett popband: Bakom kulisser och mellan människor [Processes of organizing in a pop band: Behind the scenes and between people, master’s thesis]. Stockholm: Stockholm University, Department of Education.


Conference presentations

“Vad ska livemusik vara bra för? Rockband, ambivalens och sociala världar” [What is live music good for? Rock bands, ambivalence and social worlds], Conference presentation, MIRAC (Music-focused Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis Center), Dalarna University, DAVA/Mediehuset, Nov 2019

“Plantskola för vad? Folkbildningens funktion och betydelse för den svenska musikbranschen” [A Nursery for what? Popular Education’s Function and Meaning for the Swedish Music Industries], Conference presentation w. Aron Schoug, MIRAC (Music-focused Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis Center), Royal College of Music, Nov 2018

“Plantskola för vad? Folkbildningens funktion och betydelse för den svenska musikbranschen” [A Nursery for what? Popular Education’s Function and Meaning for the Swedish Music Industries], Conference presentation w. Aron Schoug, MIMER (Nationellt program för folkbildningsforskning), Folkhögskolan Hvilan, Nov 2018

“Från album till låtar: konsekvenser för lärande i internt bandarbete” [From album to songs: consequences for learning in internal band work], Conference presentation, MIRAC (Music-focused Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis Center), Royal College of Music, Nov 2017

 “Pop- och rockband: De multipla gruppidentiteternas utmaningar” [Pop and rock bands: the challenges of multiple group identities] Conference presentation, MIRAC (Music-focused Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis Center), Royal College of Music, Nov 2016


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2020. Tobias Malm (et al.).

    Rock bands are foundational for modern day music life. These small groups provide well-being and self-fulfillment to its members, as well as fuel for the cultural life and the increasingly highlighted creative industries. Rock bands, however, are particularly difficult to organize. Bands face a range of challenges in keeping together and developing as a group.

    The aim of this doctoral thesis is to develop knowledge on rock band formation and development over time. Based in the discipline of education, the thesis mainly contributes to the fields of organization studies, social theories of learning, and music and cultural life research.

    The thesis uses the theory of situated learning to explore rock band formation and development. The methodology is qualitative and ethnographic, and the research design builds on three studies: an interview study with three rock bands and two case studies. All five bands are Swedish and have found different degrees of success and popularity.

    The thesis investigates band activities and courses of events, band members’ identities, and challenges faced. The findings indicate that a rock band’s activities shift between a production mode – i.e. highly productive times associated with public performances, record releases and marketing, and behind the scenes processes of creating, recording and planning – and a contrasting less active hibernation mode without bigger public projects or goals. The amount of time spent in production mode depends on the band’s degree of “membership” in the music industry. Moreover, a band member forms and actualizes identities of colleague, creator, entrepreneur, friend, hobbyist and professional, in differing combinations, situations and modes. Furthermore, the members’ most significant challenges relate to identity dilemmas.

    Based on these findings, the thesis formulates a model for a rock band’s learning trajectory and argues that a band may develop as it approaches, or becomes a more central member in, the music industry. This development demands increased public success and organizational ability: the band members’ ability to form business-oriented practices, to participate uniformly in an overarching community of practice, and to be flexible as they must identify with, and ascribe meaning to, a variety of activities in different and sometimes contradictory ways.

    The thesis concludes that the challenges of persistence as a rock band or similar group relates chiefly to group member difficulties in identifying with different activities and situations that are necessary to sustain and develop as a collective. Eventually, individual members tend to handle the experience of uncertainty and ambivalence by holding on to one singular identity, which may prevent group development, foster intra- and interpersonal tensions, and ultimately can lead to significant conflicts and/or a band’s breakup.

  • 2020. Tobias Malm. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 25

    Creativity and entrepreneurship are increasingly celebrated features of today’s societal life. However, small creative groups face many challenges in developing as a productive unit together, and there is still little research on how they learn to handle these challenges. The aim of this article is to provide an understanding of learning within a rock band and its potential for assisting organizational development. It presents an ethnographically inspired case study and uses the theory of communities of practice to analyze the learning processes involved in a band’s organizing of its practices. The findings illustrate how band members learn to become a micro-organization at times of production, while, in time periods between production, they learn to become a loosely held together partial community of creators and entrepreneurs. The article argues that a rock band’s organizational development relates to its members’ ability to handle a seldom highlighted contradiction between creativity and entrepreneurship. It concludes that the group’s members may develop organizationally by learning to identify with and organize for creativity and entrepreneurship in so-called multi-memberships. It also suggests that a rock band not always develops and its multi-membership abilities may as well decrease because of personal, line-up or commercial issues.

  • 2018. Tobias Malm. Journal of Organizational Ethnography 7 (2), 135-146


    The purpose of this paper is to explore and discuss some of the possibilities and risks that one can encounter in the process of doing ethnographic organization research with an at-home approach.


    The paper draws on self-reflexive analyses of a four-year research process, where the author – a rock musician – investigated how rock bands within the author’s social networks organize their activities. The materials used for analysis were notes and diaries, as well as reflections on memories.


    The findings illustrate aspects of the researcher’s “breaking out” process, which involved the researcher’s initial impulse to leave his practitioner-self, a subsequent lack of interest and eventually a return to what felt genuinely intriguing for him to study. The paper argues that one important aspect of the at-home researcher’s breaking out process may involve an active recognition of his/her practitioner-self as a resource – not least to avoid losing interest or getting lost in abstractions.


    This paper conceptualizes and builds further upon previous discussions on at-home research, adding insights into the “breaking out” process and the curious paradox of the proposed necessity for the researcher to leave and utilize his/her at-home experience and familiarity.

  • 2017. Tobias Malm.

    Rock bands feature increasingly in music education. They are essential parts of popular culture and are increasingly highlighted as entrepreneurial organizations in a global music industry. However, to develop and stay together as a band is a difficult task. This study aims to develop an understanding of the challenges of becoming a rock band, shedding new light on previously underexplored complexities of band life by considering the impact of group identities. The methodology entails storytelling and identity work, inspired by a biographical approach. Six explorative interviews with band members were conducted. The results suggest that productive activities form several kinds of work group identities, whereas low-activity periods threaten group identification. The article discusses how diversity of group identities promotes development while uniformity promotes stability. To cope with this paradox, this article suggests that band members ought to learn to develop multiple group identities and flexible ways of relating to one another.

Show all publications by Tobias Malm at Stockholm University

Last updated: June 15, 2020

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