Listening in to others : in between noise and silence

Chandola, Tripta (2010) Listening in to others : in between noise and silence. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Since the launch of the ‘Clean Delhi, Green Delhi’ campaign in 2003, slums have become a significant social and political issue in India’s capital city. Through this campaign, the state, in collaboration with Delhi’s middle class through the ‘Bhagidari system’ (literally translated as ‘participatory system’), aims to transform Delhi into a ‘world-class city’ that offers a sanitised, aesthetically appealing urban experience to its citizens and Western visitors. In 2007, Delhi won the bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games; since then, this agenda has acquired an urgent, almost violent, impetus to transform Delhi into an environmentally friendly, aesthetically appealing and ‘truly international city’. Slums and slum-dwellers, with their ‘filth, dirt, and noise’, have no place in this imagined city. The violence inflicted upon slum-dwellers, including the denial of their judicial rights, is justified on these accounts. In addition, the juridical discourse since 2000 has ‘re-problematised slums as ‘nuisance’. The rising antagonism of the middle-classes against the poor, supported by the state’s ambition to have a ‘world-class city’, has allowed a new rhetoric to situate the slums in the city. These representations articulate slums as homogenised spaces of experience and identity. The ‘illegal’ status of slum-dwellers, as encroachers upon public space, is stretched to involve ‘social, cultural, and moral’ decadence and depravity. This thesis is an ethnographic exploration of everyday life in a prominent slum settlement in Delhi. It sensually examines the social, cultural and political materiality of slums, and the relationship of slums with the middle class. In doing so, it highlights the politics of sensorial ordering of slums as ‘filthy, dirty, and noisy’ by the middle classes to calcify their position as ‘others’ in order to further segregate, exclude and discriminate the slums. The ethnographic experience in the slums, however, highlights a complex sensorial ordering and politics of its own. Not only are the interactions between diverse communities in slums highly restricted and sensually ordained, but the middle class is identified as a sensual ‘other’, and its sensual practices prohibited. This is significant in two ways. First, it highlights the multiplicity of social, cultural experience and engagement in the slums, thereby challenging its homogenised representation. Second, the ethnographic exploration allowed me to frame a distinct sense of self amongst the slums, which is denied in mainstream discourses, and allowed me to identify the slums’ own ’others’, middle class being one of them. This thesis highlights sound – its production, performances and articulations – as an act with social, cultural, and political implications and manifestations. ‘Noise’ can be understood as a political construct to identify ‘others’ – and both slum-dwellers and the middle classes identify different sonic practices as noise to situate the ‘other’ sonically. It is within this context that this thesis frames the position of Listener and Hearer, which corresponds to their social-political positions. These positions can be, and are, resisted and circumvented through sonic practices. For instance, amplification tactics in the Karimnagar slums, which are understood as ‘uncultured, callous activities to just create more noise’ by the slums’ middle-class neighbours, also serve definite purposes in shaping and navigating the space through the slums’ soundscapes, asserting a presence that is otherwise denied. Such tactics allow the residents to define their sonic territories and scope of sonic performances; they are significant in terms of exerting one’s position, territory and identity, and they are very important in subverting hierarchies. The residents of the Karimnagar slums have to negotiate many social, cultural, moral and political prejudices in their everyday lives. Their identity is constantly under scrutiny and threat. However, the sonic cultures and practices in the Karimnagar slums allow their residents to exert a definite sonic presence – which the middle class has to hear. The articulation of noise and silence is an act manifesting, referencing and resisting social, cultural, and political power and hierarchies.

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ID Code: 40760
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Tacchi, Jo & Collis, Christy
Keywords: Delhi, slums, urban studies, ethnography, contested spaces, sensorial studies, listening, noise, othering
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 15 Mar 2011 05:48
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:01

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