In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sound Studies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Readers
  • Journals and Online Publications
  • Sound, Race, and Colonialism
  • Sound, Power, and Control
  • Listening
  • Noise
  • Voice
  • Sound in the Arts

Music Sound Studies
Marie Thompson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0280


Sound studies examines concepts, practices, and technologies of sound and listening in different historical and cultural contexts. It is considered a relatively new field, emerging in the first few years of the 21st century. However, texts from the late 20th century—notably Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985) and R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape: The Tuning of the World and Our Sonic Environment (1994)—have been central to the formation and development of sound studies. Common areas of study include sound technologies and media, philosophies of sound and listening, and soundscapes and sound environments. Sound-studies scholarship also addresses specific aspects of auditory culture, such as noise, silence, loudness, vocality, speech, sound art, and music, and their imbrication with ethical, political, and ecological relations. A central contestation of the field is the importance of sound and aurality to the historical developments associated with modernity. Sound studies have sought to challenge the ocularcentric tendencies of cultural and critical analysis, and the associated dualisms of hearing/seeing and sound/vision. Transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary in its scope, research in sound studies works in and across history, musicology, sociology, cinema studies, literary studies, disability studies, American studies, geography, anthropology, media and communication studies, science and technology studies, architecture, gender studies, critical race studies, and art history. Consequently, the field’s analytic approaches and methods are diverse. However, it has often been Eurocentric, centering the West and the white, male innovator. There is a growing body of work that engages with the racial and gendered dimensions of sound and has sought to expand the remit of sound studies beyond the colonial core.

General Overviews

There are a growing number of edited collections that serve as a useful introduction to sound studies, providing a general overview of the field. These have different approaches and points of emphasis: Novak and Sakakeeny 2015 is organized around key terms, Keeling and Kun 2012 draws on American studies, Pinch and Bijsterveld 2011 is oriented toward science and technology studies, and Papenburg and Schulze 2016 addresses sound as a means of analyzing popular culture, while Birdsall and Enns 2008 takes mediation as its central theme, examining the relationship between sound, bodies, and technologies. Bull 2019 includes a section on sound-studies research skills and methods. Steingo and Sykes 2019 is an important intervention that expands the geographic scope of the field. More introductory texts can be found in the section Anthologies and Readers.

  • Birdsall, Carolyn, and Anthony Enns, eds. Sonic Mediations: Body, Sound, Technology. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008.

    The volume takes mediation as its central theme. Each chapter addresses a case study involving different sound and music technologies, practices, and installations in order to reflect on the relations between bodies, technologies, and sonic experience.

  • Bull, Michael, ed. The Routledge Companion to Sound Studies. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2019.

    An extensive collection consisting of thirty-eight chapters examining key concepts and debates in sound studies. The book is organized around six thematized sections, all of which have their own introduction. This includes a section on research skills and methods.

  • Keeling, Kara, and Josh Kun, eds. Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

    Oriented toward American studies, this collection of essays examines sound in different technological, spatial, affective, formal, and political-economic contexts, and its relationship with formations of race, gender, class, sexuality, and community.

  • Novak, David, and Matt Sakakeeny, eds. Keywords in Sound. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

    Twenty essays based on key concepts in sound studies, including echo, silence, deafness, radio, and synthesis. The essays track the intellectual history of each term and their role in social, political, and artistic discourse, highlighting significant themes for current and future research.

  • Papenburg, Jens, and Holger Schulze, eds. Sound as Popular Culture: A Research Companion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

    The collection uses sound as a means of understanding and analyzing popular culture and its constitutive cultural practices. Organized thematically, the chapters examine means of conceptualizing sound, sonic materiality, and listening; sonic methodologies; and the relationship between sound studies and other fields of study.

  • Pinch, Trevor, and Karin Bijsterveld, eds. The Oxford Handbook Sound Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Grounded in sound and technologies studies, this collection of essays addresses a variety of sound technologies, as well as the sounds of technologies and associated listening practices.

  • Steingo, Gavin, and Jim Sykes, eds. Remapping Sound Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.

    The collection aims to broaden the geographic scope of sound studies by addressing auditory cultures in the Global South. In doing so, it complicates common narratives in the field concerning technology, listening, and modernity.

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