Sounds Inside: prison, prisoners and acoustical agency
Sound Studies: an interdisciplinary journal
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Taylor and Francis via the DOI in this record.
Reason for embargo
Drawing on a set of first-hand written accounts of imprisonment, this article begins to open up the complexity of prison ‘soundscapes’ from the perspective of prisoners (Schafer 1977). The accounts suggest that in many respects prisoners are a ‘captive audience’ to the sonic environment in which they are held (Jewkes 2007; Kittay 2008; Kutzler 2014). They are subjected to a variety of sounds that they have limited capacity to avoid or control. But prisoners are not entirely deprived of ‘acoustical agency’. The sources indicate that prisoners actively draw on listening and sound-making in a diversity of ways as they negotiate prison life (Cusick 2013, 288). For instance, they may be alert to the sonic presences of prison staff and other prisoners, engage in ‘window-to-window communication’ or shouting between cells, listen intently to the verbal exchanges of others in order to gather information about events unfolding inside the prison, seek refuge from noise in quiet areas of the prison and use music to stimulate and manage particular affective states (Podmore 2012, 75; Cusick 2013, 288). The article argues that a sonic perspective prompts a move away from a consideration of prison environments as dominated and determined solely by prison authorities, pointing to the active role played by prisoners themselves in shaping the sonic space they inhabit. It also points to conflicts of acoustical agency as constituting a major source of tension between prisoners. Understanding the ways in which acoustical agency is exercised in the prison setting is shown to be integral to comprehending the experience of imprisonment and the complexity of social interaction inside prisons.
Published online: 18 Aug 2016