Speaker: Dr Tom Western
RSC Seminar, 29 May 2019
RSC Public Seminar Series. Trinity Term 2019
Series convened by Dr Cory Rodgers
About the seminar
At protest marches in Athens, where people gather to voice dissent at the violence of asylum regimes, the chants have shifted from ‘Open the Borders’ to ‘Open the City’. Border struggles become urban struggles. Athens once again becomes a polis – a centre of political action – and people use sound to make claims on belonging at street level. This paper does two things. First, it listens to these migrant activisms, focussing on sound as a way of understanding citizenship – of hearing inclusion and exclusion. The city is a testing ground (or maybe dumping ground) for European experiments in border management, but is also a sounding board for solidarity, a resonance chamber for resistance. Second, it reports on a collaborative sound recording project, working with refugee-led organisations and people who resist refugeeness. Together we run workshops on the city and citizenship, using sound as a heuristic and a catalyst for narration: opening creative engagements with representing displacement; and distorting the dominant tropes of ‘European refugee crisis’. We focus on everyday sensory experiences and performances of citizenship in protracted displacement. In the sonopolis, vocabularies of integration are reclaimed, disrupting the moral authority of NGOs to speak on behalf of those who have crossed borders. In the sonopolis, migrant activisms open ways of rethinking citizenship altogether.
About the speaker
Tom Western is an Early Career Fellow in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. He is an ethnomusicologist researching the relations between sound, borders, displacements and citizenships. Tom’s current research centres on Athens, Greece, and at the RSC he is working on a project titled ‘Aural Borders, Audible Displacements: Sound and Citizenship in Athens’. The project examines how sound informs experiences of displacement and mediates relationships – generating solidarities and frictions – between various communities living in the city. Sound in Athens is enrolled in regimes of citizenship, playing a key, but largely unheard, role in debates about Europeanness, freedom of movement, and the ‘refugee crisis’. This research brings together approaches from sound studies, ethnomusicology, forced migration studies and anthropology. Tom’s previous research explored how sound recordings were used to construct nations and borders in postwar Europe, and how histories of migration were silenced in the process. His first book – National Phonography: Field Recording, Sound Archiving, and Producing the Nation in Music – is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic Press in 2020. He has also published in the journals Sound Studies, Twentieth-Century Music, Ethnomusicology Forum, and in several edited books.
Photo: Thousands march in solidarity with refugees in London, September 2016. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell