The Anthropology of Sound >> Content Detail



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Course Description

This class examines the ways humans experience the realm of sound and how perceptions and technologies of sound emerge from cultural, economic, and historical worlds. In addition to learning about how environmental, linguistic, and musical sounds are construed cross-culturally, students learn about the rise of telephony, architectural acoustics, and sound recording, as well as about the globalized travel of these technologies. Questions of ownership, property, authorship, and copyright in the age of digital file sharing are also addressed. A major concern will be with how the sound/noise boundary has been imagined, created, and modeled across diverse sociocultural and scientific contexts. Auditory examples — sound art, environmental recordings, music — will be provided and invited throughout the term.

Required Books

Amazon logo Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. ISBN: 9780816612871.

Amazon logo Bull, Michael, and Les Back, eds. The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2004. ISBN: 9781859736180.


Students will write three 7-page papers, on the subjects of sound word, sound technology, and sonic communities. The sonic communities papers will also be presented in class on the last day. No emailed papers will be accepted. Papers are docked by a letter grade for each day they are late. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including discussion and in-class writing exercises. Punctual attendance is obligatory. There will not be a final exam.

Grading Policy

Paper 125%
Paper 225%
Paper 325%
Class participation: discussion and in-class writing25%


1Course introduction
2Thinking about sound


Soundwalk at MIT

5VoicesSound word paper due

Telephones and radio

Soundscapes, revisited through sound sculpture

Beth Coleman, Comparative Media Studies, MIT
7Phonograph and gramophone records, compact discs, MP3sKieran Downes, History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, MIT
8Sound, culture, propertyIan Condry, Foreign Languages and Literatures, MIT
9A political economy of sound and noiseAndres Lombana, Comparative Media Studies, MIT
10The sound of musicPeter Whincop, Music, Harvard University / Music and Theatre Arts, MITSound technology paper due
11Sonic publics
12Styles of silence
13The sounds of scienceDale Joachim, Media Lab, MIT
14Class presentations of sonic communities paperSonic communities paper due


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