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Noise cancelling headphones & the neoliberal subject

Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
Active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones grant an individual the ability to define and create personal sonic borders in real time. While this promise offers individuals a form of sonic escapism, I suggest that the technology is cloaked in neoliberal cultural values which promote individualized thinking, capital interest attained through increased focus, control of both the consumer and their sonic environment, and a Euro-centric perception of rationality and knowledge formation (J. H. Clarke et al., 2007; Gane, 2008; Houghton, 2019; Lazzarato, 2009). The technology dissolves opportunities for embodied sonic connection to land, community, and nonhuman agents which are strengthened through attentive and unmediated listening practices (Classen, 1999; Feld, 2012; Gross, 2014; Robinson, 2020; Simpson, 2011). Through a case study of Bose's 700 NC and Apple's Airpods Pro noise-cancelling headphones, this thesis works to uncover the ways in which the technology reproduces neoliberal ideologies utilizing CDA (Amoussue & Allagbe, 2018; Fairclough, 2001; Van Dijk, 2003) to consider how both companies advertise their noise-cancelling headphones and prioritize the neoliberal subject. Additionally, a collection of soundwalks are performed to compare the promises offered by the marketing campaigns through autoethnographic research (Behrendt, 2018; Sterne, 2003; Westerkamp, 2006). To juxtapose these neoliberal values and to offer moments for decolonial perspectives, this thesis addresses Indigenous, specifically Anishinaabe, literature on listening and sonic dimensions to consider the ways in which unmediated listening may offer moments of embodied knowledge which emerge from and through critical self-reflexivity, an awareness of an individual's listening positionality, and a perspective on spatial intersubjectivity.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Droumeva, Milena
Member of collection
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