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TitleSounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life (Materializing Culture)
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Table of Contents
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Document Text Contents
Page 1

Sounding out the CitySounding out the CitySounding out the CitySounding out the CitySounding out the City

Page 2

� � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � �


Series Editors: Paul Gilroy, Michael Herzfeld and Danny Miller

Barbara Bender, Stonehenge: Making Space

Gen Doy, Materializing Art History

Laura Rival (ed.), The Social Life of Trees: Anthropological Perspectives on
Tree Symbolism

Victor Buchli, An Archaeology of Socialism

Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsley (eds), Material
Memories: Design and Evocation

Penny Van Esterik, Materializing Thailand

Page 108

100 Sounding out the City

Users normally dislike being disturbed in the flow of listening. The
pleasure derived from use and the planning involved in this mitigates
against any unexpected interruption that might destroy the mood-
enhancing qualities of listening. Users habitually use strategies of
continued listening whilst engaging in interactive processes. The most
common being talking with one earphone plugged into the ear thus
enabling conversation to continue:

Or sometimes you can have one in your ear and one out so you can
listen to your music as well. (Kayz: interview number 54)

I take it out of one ear. I listen to music on the phone through head-
phones. I listen to the radio through headphones while I’m on the phone.
I’ll be listening through one ear . . . Because people that phone me like
to know what I’m listening to because music’s the centre of my world. I
couldn’t live without music. (Jana: interview number 47)

Through using their personal stereos, users are able to switch off from
conversations more easily or they might pretend to be listening,
feigning involvement in the conversation. Equally they make judg-
ments as to the level of interest they wish to take in the discourse. The
discourse is always in direct competition with the process of consuming
personalized sound. Users sense of their self-prioritization is thus
enhanced through use, as is the power of disengagement. This can
take many forms as exemplified above; users might pick up their
personal stereo and put it on as a way of making it obvious to the
‘other’ that they are not being listened to or to signify the end of the
dialogue. Alternatively the personal stereo might be turned up or the
body language of the user might be used to signify that the music is of
more interest to the user than is the discourse.

Personal stereos can also be used to avoid contact altogether. This is
achieved by the user representing themselves as being totally absorbed
in listening, thus making it difficult to be interrupted. Alternatively
the user might acknowledge the other whilst signifying being otherwise
engaged, thus playing on the taken for granted or everyday notion of
privacy made visible through use:

When I’m with people [on the bus]. Yeh. I find myself sitting on the
bus. I can’t be bothered to talk so you listen to the Walkman . . . if I see
people [whilst shopping] that I don’t want to talk to, it’s a bit rude, but
you just turn your Walkman up louder and walk with your head a bit
down. (Claire: interview number 48)

Page 109

The Asymmetrical Urban 101

There might be someone on the bus I don’t particularly want to talk to.
So if you have your Walkman on you can smile at them but you don’t
have to communicate with them. I do that quite a lot. It’s an excuse not
to talk to somebody. (Amber: interview number 28)

The use of a personal stereo appears to provide a new range of public
contexts for the prioritizing of subjective experience. However, this
prioritization is not always well received:

This weekend I went to Scotland with my boyfriend and he brought his
Walkman. I didn’t really mind but he wore them most of the way. I
thought it would be nice just to talk or something. I sat there twiddling
my thumbs. Once I realized how boring the journey was I didn’t mind.
(Claire: interview number 48)

Yet whilst the recipient describes being put out by the relegation of
her discourse she nevertheless agrees that using a personal stereo is
probably of more interest. The use of the personal stereo as an accomp-
animent for discourse becomes an everyday and normal practice for
many users. In the following example Alice, a seventeen-year-old
student, accepts the activity of her boyfriend as being normal whilst
not necessarily liking it:

If he comes round to my house and he just walks around he often has it
on and he’ll sit there for quite a long time with one ear, cause he’s got
the ear plug on . . . and he’ll turn the volume down lower. (Alice: interview
number 6)

However, the point I wish to stress here is the prioritizing and asym-
metrical aspect of use in the normal pattern of interpersonal discourse.
It is also significant that in the above examples that relate to a more
domestic use, males use personal stereos to prioritize their experience
over the woman, thus replicating general male predispositions to
prioritize their experience (Morley 1992). When use takes place in
interpersonal domestic situations its use becomes more gender stereo-
typical. One female respondent reported having a difficult domestic
situation with her partner, who would invariably walk around the
house listening to sports programmes on his personal stereo, thus
avoiding what she perceived to be direct discourse with her. This
resulted in verbally and sometimes physically violent behaviour
between them.

Page 215

Index 207

Kellner, Douglas 7
Kittler, F. 43
Kracauer, Seigfried 7

and radio 8–10
and space 127–8

Lefebvre, Henri
and phenomenology 166
and representational space 3, 22,

28n2, 125–9, 158–9
and time 65, 166

aestheticized 25, 82–5
auditized 25, 73
distracted 74
empowered 78
non reciprocal 25, 77
see also Aesteticized experience,

Goffman, Honneth
Lull, J.ames 5, 14n4, 150

Malbon, B. 41
Marcuse, Herbert 129–30, 175
Marx, Karl 161
Mobile home 32
Mobile privatization 172, 178–9
Moebius, H. 13n3, 27n1
Moores, Shawn 157, 179–80
Morley, David 27n1, 101, 133n3

auratic quality 123
everyday accompaniment 38
meaningful tapes 245
reception 32
see also Adorno, Sounds

Mustenberg, Henri 8

Natanson, Maurice 10
Negt, Oskar 164–5
Nicholson, Sherry 130

Ohsone, K. 167n1
Osborne, Peter 147, 166

Paddison, Max 15n5
Personal narratives 37
Phenomenology 10–12, 15n5, 52, 109

see also Natanson, Silverstone
Popper, Carl 16n5
Poster, Neil 152
Provenzo, Eugene 150, 153

Radio 32
Rojek, Chris 11
Rousseau, J. J. 41

Sartre, J.P. 184n2
Selnow, Robert 151
Silverstone, Roger 11–12, 149–50,

154, 157, 167n2, 181
home and reach 35, 178

Sennett, Richard 3,7, 85, 122, 135,
144, 156–7, 171, 181, 188

Simmel, Georg 3,
and senses 115, 119–20
and technology 144
and urban experience 148, 71–3,

81, 119–20, 135–8, 145, 186–7
Sony Walkman 5–6
Sounds 17–18

auratic 33
cognitive 31
colonizing 37
conceptual 87
gendered 27n1, 103–8
mobile 50
moral 50, 98
public 25, 44, 59, 78
personal 44, 72, 77–80
representational 98, 120, 123,

125–9, 156

Page 216

208 Index

technologized 48–9
urban 39, 116
see also Lefebvre, Honneth

Tacussel, Peter 11
Taylor, Charles 97, 193–4

and body 35
and communication 147–53
and experience 8, 10, 12, 32, 36,

43, 51, 98, 125, 193–5
and sound 9
see also Adorno, Aestheticization

of everyday life, Benjamin,
Kracauer, Frankfurt School

Television 32, 40
Tester, Keith 4, 85, 135

see also Flâneurie

Time 9, 19, 24, 55–68, 118, 158
cyclical 57, 161–2
industrial 64
leisure 60, 156, 161
linear 56–6, 67–8n1,125, 161–2
see also Adorno, Lefebvre

Thornton, Sarah 111
Turkle, Sherry 151–3

Virilio, Paul 176

Welsch, William 117, 135
Williams, Raymond 178–9
Williamson, Judith 137
Witkin, Robert 15n5
Wolin, Richard 164

Zuidervaart, L., 129

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