WS: Tracing the Agency of Sound

Nikita Hock's picture
February 8, 2019 to February 9, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies, Humanities, Research and Methodology

The Workshop

“Tracing The Agency of Sound” is an international workshop held at the Institute of History at the University of Bern on 08.-09. February 2019. The workshop aims to bring together historians, sound studies scholars, anthropologists, psychologists and linguists in order to think about the impact of sound experience in changing historical contexts.

In historical research, sound has been increasingly recognized as an important aspect of the human expe­rience, the analysis of which allows insights into structures of sensation, emotion, knowledge, and power. Nevertheless, sound in such investigations often appears as a mere layer of information.

This two-day workshop aims to depart from understanding sound as a passive “background” or neu­tral “medium”. We want to shift our attention to sound as influence, agent, and/or actor: Sound evokes emotions (tone and inflection of voice, socio- and dialect, laughing and weeping), it shapes thinking (con­figuring metaphors and patterns of thought), it impacts bodies and contributes to their movement (via shouts/orders, dancing, sounds of war), and takes part in shaping language (through possibilities and limits of its representation in speech and text).

Together, we want to reflect on methods that allow us to pass beyond “how it sounded” to the ques­tion “what was sound capable of doing?” How do we approach the agency of sound? And what are the conditions for sound to “act”? By focusing on agency, we aim to detect traces of sound in other spheres of human life which themselves may not necessarily be filled with sound. Thus, we look for ways to extend the decodability of sound.

All information can be found: at


Friday 08 February 2019
Janina Wurbs and Nikita Hock (University of Bern)
Victor A. Stoichita (CNRS, Paris-Nanterre University): What Does It Mean and Imply When We Talk About Sound Having Agency?
10:40–12:10“Agency of Sound” in Language and Thought
Chair: Victor de Souza Soares (University of Bern)
 Elżbieta Górska (University of Warsaw): A Case Study of Intermodal Translation: From Music to Language and Back
 Tania Zittoun (University of Neuchâtel): Sound for Thought: A Sociocultural Psychological Exploration of Sonic Imagination
12:10-13:40Lunch Break
13:40-15:10“Agency of Sound” in and Through Texts
Chair: Jan-Friedrich Missfelder (University of Basel)
 Ber Kotlerman (Bar-Ilan University): Sound Effects in Agnon’s Yiddish Story ‘Toytntants’
 Julia Samp (RTWH Aachen University): Acoustic Interference as a Product of Social Construction. Based on the Example of the Correspondence of Willibald Pirckheimer (1470–1530)
15:30–17:00From “Agency of Sound” to its History
Chair: Christoph Dieckmann (University of Bern)
 Holger Schulze (University of Copenhagen): The Nanopolitics of Sound: Sonic Agency in Everyday Listening Situations
 Jan-Friedrich Missfelder (University of Basel): Distribution of the Audible. Conceptualizing Acoustic Agency in (Pre)modern History
Saturday 09 February 2019
09:00–10:30“Agency of Sound” in Social Regimes
Chair: Tom Rice (University of Exeter)
 Nicholas Bujalski (Cornell University): Bells and Cannons: Towards a History of Political Sound in Tsarist Russia
 Pooja Satyogi (Ambedkar University Delhi): Sounding Law, Listening Regimes and Policing: Arbitrating ‘Domestic Cruelty’ in Special Protection Units, Delhi Police
10:45–12:15“Agency of Sound” at the Extremes
Chair: Christian Gerlach (University of Bern)
 Ian Biddle (Newcastle University): The Modern Ear: New Regimes of Listening During the Second World War
 Vannessa Hearman (Charles Darwin University): The Auditory Landscape of the 1965–66 Anti–Communist Repression in Indonesia and Sound–Based Projects to Reexamine the ‘1965’ Case
12:15–13:45Lunch Break
13:45–15:15Changing Contexts, Changing Environments
Chair: Daniel Marc Segesser (University of Bern)
 Sławomir Wieczorek (University of Wrocław): Agency in the Sonic Past: Stalin’s Death 1953
 Jarosław Jaworek (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań): Sound Agency Between the Human and non-Human World
15:35–16:15Discussion: How to Do Things with Agency
Chair: Luis Velasco-Pufleau (University of Fribourg)
Short Input (Tom Rice)



UniS | Room B-102
Schanzeneckstrasse 1
CH-3012 Bern

Contact Info: 

Nikita Hock
Historisches Institut der Universität Bern
Länggassstrasse 49
CH-3012 Bern
+41 (0)31 631-3633