Sound Subjects and Hearing Cultures: Towards an Acoustic Ethnography

AuthorRatheesh Kumar
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterNotes on Method
Sound Subjects and
Hearing Cultures: Towards
an Acoustic Ethnography
Ratheesh Kumar1
‘Sound’, rather than being a destination, has been a potent and necessary means for accessing and understanding
the world; in effect, it leads away from itself—A very nebulous notion of methodology, but also something that
kicks in before methodology.
(Kahn, Douglas, 1999; Cited in Sterne, 2012, p. 7)
Sensory techniques enable the process of classification, which in turn facilitates the perceptive
capacity to make sense of the world. The human competence to work with the senses in a complex
and often unregistered manner prompts us to explore the world of the senses with reference to their
functional modalities in the ways of knowing. Apparently, such an exploration cannot rest on the
question of epistemology in its conventional frame. It rather involves the idea of the political in the
making of a sensory hierarchy. The history of the sensory hierarchy is stridently audible through
the early records of western modernity (Howes, 2003; Howes & Classen, 2014; Seremetakis, 1994;
Stoller, 1989, 1997). Placing the hierarchy of the senses as a central concern, this article explores the
promises of a sound ethnography that seeks to underline the ways of hearing as a methodological
possibility, not as an alternate, but as an add-on to the hitherto ‘dominant’ visual sensibilities and
practices. Is hearing an unexplored technique in the study of culture? Can hearing be a method in a
more imaginative way in ethnographic research? How do we make sense of the relation between the
listening ear and its ‘superior other’ the ‘observing eye’ in ethnographic contexts? While raising such
methodological concerns is crucial to the shifting grounds of ethnography, the article engages with
the recent debates in the emergent fields of sound studies, anthropology of the senses and digital
Hearing Cultures, Sound Subjects
Are there categories of culture that can be heard? Is race audible? Does gender have a voice? How does
religion connect to the soundscape? Is there a sound of caste? How does a sensory approach help us to
Notes on Method
Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid (
1 Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Ratheesh Kumar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
Studies in Indian Politics
10(1) 138–144, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221082831

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT