Sounding Stories, Telling Sounds: Listening with Displacement and Emplacement

This presentation will be given by Tom Western at  the Refugee Hosts International Conference as part of Panel 1:  Disrupting Humanitarian Narratives. The presentation puts sound and listening at the centre of forced migration, asking how they inform experiences of displacement and practices of emplacement. Sound is an access point to the agency of people who have crossed borders: it opens creative engagements with representing displacement, and can disrupt the dominant tropes of ‘refugee crisis’.

Sounding Stories, Telling Sounds:

                                                                       Listening with Displacement and Emplacement

by, Tom Western, Marie Curie Fellow, Department of Musicology, University of Oslo

From refugee voices to asylum hearings, sound populates the language of displacement. This presentation puts sound and listening at the centre of forced migration, and follows their potentials to disrupt humanitarian narratives. I aim to do three things. First, to reflect on how listening can open creative engagements with representing displacement, finding spaces of narrativity that have not yet been claimed and foreclosed. Sound is an access point to the agency of people who have crossed borders: a means of tuning in to everyday life.

Second, I draw on my work in Athens to consider how listening can amplify migrant activisms, creativities, and citizenship practices. People use the city as a sounding board of solidarity and a resonance chamber for protest. Sound is enrolled in practices of emplacement as much as experiences of displacement. I illustrate these ideas through a collaborative sound essay produced in 2017; and through my current work with a refugee-led collective, running workshops on recording and storytelling, using sound as a heuristic and a catalyst for narration.

Third, I speak to the conference’s focus on community responses by offering the theory of refugee feedback. Histories of movement and refuge in Athens exist in a feedback loop, stacking up on top of each other in the urban environment. Sound generates feedback, animating solidarities and frictions between communities. I close by asking how listening enables us to populate stories of displacement and retell them as gatherings of experiences, and how this disrupts the dominant tropes of ‘refugee crisis’.

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If you found this piece of interest please visit our recommended reading list below or visit our Readings and Soundscapes Archive:

Antonopoulou, A. (2017) ‘The Virtual Reality of the Refugee Experience’

Blachnicka-Ciacek, D. (2017) ‘Refugees Present/Absent. Escaping the Traps of Refugee (Mis)representation’

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Disrupting Humanitarian Narratives?

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) ‘Introduction to the Representations of Displacement Series: Spaces and Places not Faces’

Greatrick, A. & Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. The roles of performance and creative writing workshops in refugee-related research 

Harsch, L. (2018) ‘Giving Refugees a Voice? Looking Beyond ‘Refugee Stories”

Loris-Rodionoff, C. (2017) ‘Hope, Resilience and Uncertainty: A Day with Displaced Syrians in Southern Turkey’

McGuirk, S. (2018) ‘Psychogeography, Safe Spaces and LGBTQ Immigrant Experience: Reflections from the “At Home in the Village?” Project’ 

Zbeidy, D. (2017) ‘Widowhood, Displacement and Friendships in Jordan’

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