Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Florian Grond (McGill University)
Based on ongoing fieldwork with a blind community organization in Montreal, this presentation explores the potential of binaural recordings as an ethnographic tool. Binaural recordings are a technique of recording sounds that puts a microphone on each ear of the person who records, in order to capture closely what she hears. The recordings create a strongly immersive 3-D sound sensation when listening to it over headphones. In line with recent studies on the anthropology of sound, we state that binaural recordings allow ethnographers to get closer to others’ sensory experiences of listening and to undo asymmetries between "abled" ethnographers and "dis-abled" subjects of study. However, we also consider that binaural recordings can enrich participant observation, the core method of our discipline. Participant observation relies on different sensory modalities to interact with specific environments and various technologies of data collection such as pens and notebooks, audio recorders and video cameras that are associated to these modalities. We argue that, in contrast with these technologies, binaural recordings not only facilitate data collection, but also capture the ethnographer’s listening experience during fieldwork, her fieldwork soundscape. This opens new possibilities for the practice of ethnography. For example, by re-listening to fieldwork soundscapes the ethnographer attunes to affects associated to the experience of participant observation, which could contribute to the thickening of her descriptions and enrichment of her reflections.