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Thinking Hearing: The Auditory Turn in the Humanities

Fri, October 2, 2009 | AT&T Conference Center

Are the humanities on the verge of an “auditory turn?” Do we need an equivalent to visual studies – aural studies, as one might call it? Are there such things as “auditory regimes” or “auditory cultures?” In what way might a turn toward sound and aurality rejuvenate the humanities and what if any lessons might be learned from the “pictorial turn?” What is the relationship between aurality, textuality and visuality?

Questions like these in recent years have given programmatic orientation to a wide range of studies concerned with, broadly conceived, the culture of sound and aural perception. But the heightened interest in the ear also intersects with the remarkable resurgence of the other senses as objects and, more often than not, modalities of scholarly inquiry. Sweeping the humanities and social sciences, this long overdue turn toward the “other” senses thus clearly challenges the monopoly of the visual in modern society and culture. At the same time the turn toward aurality runs numerous risks. Not the least among these risks is the danger of repeating the same myths and fallacies that have turned visual studies – a once vibrant and emerging field - into an industry that is dominated by sterile intellectual postures, crippled by turf battles, and trapped in received ideas..

The symposium brings together a small group of scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds within the humanities, including fields with a major stake in aurality such as ethno/musicology, anthropology and media studies but also literature, history, and history of science. 

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