Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
As part of democratic liberalization in the 1980s, the ruling regime in Taiwan established an environmental noise control system in response to citizens’ grievances about noise. Departing from the opacity of past authoritarian practices, the regime utilized the decibel meter and implemented acoustic measurement methods to showcase a newfound commitment to democratic transparency and scientific rationality. As a result, the adoption of a technoscientific system for noise control has had the effect of subjecting human experience and the sonic environment to techniques of substitution that have, in turn, produced new subject positions in relation to unwanted sound: decibel values stand in for noise, sound pressure meters do the listening for environmental inspectors, and inspectors in turn do the listening for Taiwanese residents. The result is a circulation of exchangeability that reformulates the individual perception of noise into a generalizable condition and reconfigures social relations through practices of projection. While environmental inspectors are trained as technicians whose measurement results must be identical to their peers in an effort to showcase objectivity, Taiwanese residents have started to film their own, household noise problems in the depersonalized style of surveillance footage that removes the individual, hearing subject from the ambient problem of noise. Through substitution, Taipei residents and environmental inspectors participate in an economy of machine listening, consisting of the decibel meter and video recording devices, that produce new political subjects around processes of exchange.