Sonopolis: Sound, citizenship, and migrant activisms in Athens
Dr Tom Western (Refugee Studies Centre)
Public Seminar Series
Wednesday, 29 May 2019, 5pm to 6.30pm
Seminar Room 1, Oxford Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB
Hosted by Refugee Studies Centre
Public Seminar Series, Trinity term 2019
Everyday Resistance to the European Governance of Migration
Series convenor: Dr Cory Rodgers
THE SEMINAR SERIES
The Trinity 2019 public seminar series focuses on “Everyday resistance to the European governance of migration”. As national immigration and asylum regimes become increasingly restrictive in countries around the world, “Fortress Europe” stands out for its efforts to regulate human movement both within and beyond its borders. Following the 2015 “crisis”, spikes in detention and deportation have been common features of European migration management. But there are also examples of resistance by migrants and citizens, who defy, endure, and creatively navigate these systems and practices of exclusion, often in ways that are overlooked in legal and institutional accounts of migration governance. This term, four Oxford-based speakers will describe situations in which such efforts become visible (and audible), through diverse case studies from sites on both sides of the Mediterranean. While focused on dramatically different situations and activities, they share an interest in alternative understandings of migration governance, as well as the practices by which people contend with state strategies, xenophobic narratives, and exclusionary practices.
At protest marches in Athens, where people gather to voice dissent at the violence of asylum regimes, the chants have shifted from ‘Open the Borders’ to ‘Open the City’. Border struggles become urban struggles. Athens once again becomes a polis – a centre of political action – and people use sound to make claims on belonging at street level. This paper does two things. First, it listens to these migrant activisms, focussing on sound as a way of understanding citizenship – of hearing inclusion and exclusion. The city is a testing ground (or maybe dumping ground) for European experiments in border management, but is also a sounding board for solidarity, a resonance chamber for resistance. Second, it reports on a collaborative sound recording project, working with refugee-led organisations and people who resist refugeeness. Together we run workshops on the city and citizenship, using sound as a heuristic and a catalyst for narration: opening creative engagements with representing displacement; and distorting the dominant tropes of ‘European refugee crisis’. We focus on everyday sensory experiences and performances of citizenship in protracted displacement. In the sonopolis, vocabularies of integration are reclaimed, disrupting the moral authority of NGOs to speak on behalf of those who have crossed borders. In the sonopolis, migrant activisms open ways of rethinking citizenship altogether.
Tom Western is an Early Career Fellow in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford. He is an ethnomusicologist researching the relations between sound, borders, displacements and citizenships. Tom’s current research centres on Athens, Greece, and at the RSC he is working on a project titled ‘Aural Borders, Audible Displacements: Sound and Citizenship in Athens’. The project examines how sound informs experiences of displacement and mediates relationships – generating solidarities and frictions – between various communities living in the city. Sound in Athens is enrolled in regimes of citizenship, playing a key, but largely unheard, role in debates about Europeanness, freedom of movement, and the ‘refugee crisis’. This research brings together approaches from sound studies, ethnomusicology, forced migration studies and anthropology. Tom’s previous research explored how sound recordings were used to construct nations and borders in postwar Europe, and how histories of migration were silenced in the process. His first book – National Phonography: Field Recording, Sound Archiving, and Producing the Nation in Music – is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic Press in 2020. He has also published in the journals Sound Studies, Twentieth-Century Music, Ethnomusicology Forum, and in several edited books.
Listen to the podcast of the seminar on SoundCloud