Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Reconsidering Sound and the City: Asserting the Right to the Deaf-Friendly City

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Reconsidering Sound and the City: Asserting the Right to the Deaf-Friendly City

Article excerpt

Introduction: the sensory turn and geographies of sound

The sensory turn has invigorated geographical thought with discussions around the sensorial production, perception, and experience of place. Its work has addressed the traditional bias towards the 'visual' in geographical enquiry, with Smith (2000, page 615) among those arguing "the importance of imagining--of creating, of engaging with--a world in the doing, shaped by senses other than sight". Several commentators have alluded to the unfeasibility of an ocular-centric disposition in the discipline (see, for example, Crary, 2001; Pocock, 1989; Valentine, 2001), with Erlmann (2004, page 3) positing that "to assert that modernity is essentially a visual age (Levin, 1993) or that bourgeois society rests on technologies of seeing, observation, and surveillance (Lowe, 1982) is no longer of much heuristic value".

The role of sound in the production of place has achieved critical attention from geographers seeking to engage with Rodaway's (1994, page 96) view that "auditory experience--or sound--plays a key role in anticipation, encounter and memory of places". Of particular interest to this paper is the attention garnered around sound and the city. Amin and Thrift (2002) suggest that "sound is becoming one of the new landscapes of urban governance", and urge us to "think only of the hum of conversation on telephone lines or mobiles as the city is constantly talked into being" (pages 121-122, emphasis in original). Tonkiss (2003, page 303) is similarly convinced of the pertinence of sound in cities, asserting that "sound gives us the city as matter and as memory. In this register, the double life of cities--the way they slide between the material and the perceptual, the hard and the soft--is spoken out loud, made audible." Atkinson (2007, page 1905) considers "the constituent and shifting bundles of noise, sound and music emanating from shifting patterns of industry, traffic, leisure, talk and other sound sources in the city to create a sensory departure-point" and in doing so, conceives of a sonic ecology of the city:

"The ambient soundscape of the street is made up of a shifting aural terrain, a resonant metropolitan fabric, which may exclude or subtly guide us in our experience of the city, thus highlighting an invisible yet highly affecting and socially relevant area of urban enquiry."

Atkinson's work resonates with what Blesser and Salter (2007) term "aural architectures", and signifies that, although these may be intangible, their significance in the reproduction of spaces is undeniable.

It is significant that the body of work on sonic geographies has been dominated by contributions which are rooted in hearing ontology. In this paper I identify the need to look towards Deaf-centred scholarship on sound, and to acknowledge that there is a hearingness implicit in the production of geographical commentary on sound, which to date remains unquestioned, and which has had a marked impact on the conceptualisation of sound and its role in the reproduction of spaces. Querying the popular conception of Deaf people living in a world without sound, I draw on empirical accounts from Deaf people living in urban areas in Ireland and England to illuminate the issues encountered in their everyday urban geographies when negotiating architectures of sound in public spaces which are underwritten by hearing-centred values.

Sound, 'silence', and the Deaf Way (1)

Gulliver (2008, page 89) explains how "the idea of silence is somewhat iconic of deafness ... [and how] the images of deaf people living in a world of silence are familiar to us hearing people because the deafness that they describe is closely akin to notions of silence that we all recognise and perhaps even fear." The roots of the fear to which Gulliver alludes can be traced to the empiricist philosophical tradition which emerged strongly in the 17th century, as identified by Branson and Miller (2002, page 25):

"Through Locke, the five senses came to dominate not only the conceptualization of human nature and human ability but also the conceptualization of society itself and of the place that those who were judged 'sensible' or in some way 'senseless' should occupy in society. …

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