Article ID: CBB001035558

Quiet Comfort: Noise, Otherness, and the Mobile Production of Personal Space (2011)


Hagood, Mack (Author)

American Quarterly
Volume: 63
Pages: 573--589

Publication Date: 2011
Edition Details: Part of a special issue: “Sound Technologies and Subjectivities”
Language: English

Marketing, news reports, and reviews of Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones position them as essential gear for the mobile rational actor of the neoliberal market---the business traveler. This article concerns noise-canceling headphones' utility as soundscaping devices, which render a sense of personal space by mediating sound. The airplane and airport are paradoxical spaces in which the pursuit of freedom impedes its own enjoyment. Rather than fight the discomforts of air travel as a systemic problem, travelers use the tactic of soundscaping to suppress the perceived presence of others. Attention to soundscaping enables the scholar to explore relationships between media, space, freedom, otherness, and selfhood in an era characterized by neoliberalism and increased mobility. Air travel is a moment in which people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and bodies crowd together in unusually close proximity. Noise is the sound of individualism and difference in conflict. Noise is othered sound, and like any type of othering, the perception of noise is socially constructed and situated in hierarchies of race, class, age, and gender. The normative QuietComfort user in media representations is white, male, rational, monied, and mobile; women, children, and chatty passengers are cast as noisemakers. Moreover, in putting on noise-canceling headphones, diverse selves put on the historically Western subjectivity that has been built into their technology, one that suppresses the noise of difference in favor of the smooth circulation of people, information, and commodities.


Description On noise-cancelling headphones used by passengers in air travel.

Included in

Article Naeem, Asma (2011) Splitting Sight and Sound: Thomas Dewing's A Reading, Gilded Age Women, and the Phonograph. American Quarterly (p. 461). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Kaiser-El-Safti, Margret
Horning, Susan Schmidt
Lee, Robert S.
Bijsterveld, Karin
Dijck, José van
Dierikx, Marc
Social Studies of Science
The Bridge: Journal of the National Academy of Engineering
Book History
Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology
The Journal of Transport History
UNSW Press
Amsterdam University Press
Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
Duke University Press
Engineering, audio
Air transportation
Sound reproduction
Technology and music
Auditory perception
Freud, Sigmund
Edison, Thomas Alva
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
19th century
20th century, late
United States

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