Sonic Legal Spaces


This essay explores the contestation and liberatory potential of various sounding and listening practices within the metropolitan area of Chicago, especially in relation to the city as a racialized legal space of segregation, gentrification, and private property. While considering listening in terms of the individual or community is important, we should also consider how the state listens and what disciplinary effects such listening enacts vis-á-vis legal definitions of noise. What counts as sound or noise, far from abstract fact, is determined by social dispositions of taste materialized into cultural preferences that are further concretized into municipal ordinances. While this essay attends to the sonic legal space of the city as regulatory, it also examines the role sound plays in setting up the potential for radical encounters and speculative relationalities. As such, it outlines a form of sonic mutuality that refuses to gloss over the challenges of living in a noisy city while also refusing the state’s authority to transform social disputes into criminal matters. Sonic mutualism requires new orientations to the problem of overlapping sonic desires within the complexities of urban life. How might we understand our sonic dispositions and tastes apart from the territorial logics of capital, property, and control? What might it look like to form extralegal social arrangements that mediate conflicting audio desires beyond criminalization? To ask these types of questions is to challenge the reduction of the city to an abstract zone of commerciality, and instead hear the city as a sonic commons.
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