This study investigates the social construction of sound or "noise" in the environment through analysis of how people interpret sound. This is a topic of theoretical interest to cognitive science, social psychology, and the arts. Given the cultural emphasis on vision in our society, less research has been done on the importance of the cognitive interpretation of sound and its consequences for urban life, the social environment, and mental health. This study examines what figures into how people listen and how the concept of noise is evaluated by personnel in a sound engineering firm. The debates and conflicts among such personnel come to define what is considered problematic noise as they aim to develop technology that focuses on improving the listening experience in modern society. Using ethnographic observation and discourse analysis, the investigator looks at perceptions which ultimately come to define the concept of noise. In the process, the study contributes to debates about constructivism and realism in social science by showing the way in which opinions compete to create facts. It also addresses concerns related to environmental stress and the utility of hearing and listening for enhanced social well-being.
Broader Impact This study should impact knowledge about hearing, an important component in understanding such diverse issues as the effect of noise in the environment on social stress and the utility of music in well-being and mental health. It should impact knowledge about listening, and consequently, point to how to improve social life through language, technology, and environment.
This study examined how the concept of noise is evaluated by personnel in an audio engineering firm. The debates and conflicts among such personnel come to define what is considered problematic noise as they develop technology that reduces such noise, improving the listening experience in modern society. This knowledge has consequences for urban life, the social environment, and mental and bodily health. Using ethnographic observation and discourse analysis, the investigator looked at individual perceptions, engineering materials, and organizational traits which ultimately come to define the concept of noise. Findings indicate that the understanding and perception of noise has become more diverse among a new generation of engineers, while the division of labor within the open office environment creates good faith among engineers. This new situation finds engineers attempting new technologies which better reflect their own mode of production which is influenced by their experiences as members of a society grown more diverse. More than just a matter of opinion, the interaction of people with technology is changed by engineering, which has grown increasingly complex and able to respond to the real conditions of the users. This award has made possible the research for a dissertation now in progress. The funded ethnographic work has lead to an in-depth and sufficiently-long look at the way audio technology is made and what meaning is built into audio by engineers who are also members of society. In addition to an extended research trip to the ethnographic fieldsite, this funding has sponsored additional research outings over the remainder of the year, in which the remainder of data was gathered and the results were written into preliminary reports.