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Naomi Waltham-Smith (Associate Professor)

Naomi Waltham-Smith (Associate Professor)

I work at the intersection between sound studies and modern European philosophy and literary theory, especially deconstruction. I am interested in how aurality is imbricated in some of the most significant and urgent political issues in contemporary neoliberalism, including the impact of digital political economies on listening practices and the transforming conditions of vocality amid the crisis of political representation we are witnessing today. I use field recordings to explore urban ecologies of sound and their political significance and I also study sonic activism, including the work of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Sharon Hayes, Mendi and Keith Obadike, and collective Ultra-red.

My first book, Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores how the instrumental music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven is implicated in a politics of belonging, understood in the double sense of inclusion and possession. Putting this music in dialogue with the thought of Derrida, Nancy, Agamben, and Badiou, it examines how aesthetics is always already unravelling in the direction of collective production.

My second monograph, Shattering Biopolitics: Militant Listening and the Sound of Life (forthcoming with Fordham University Press for the Commonalities series), develops my interests in the role of sound and listening in the philosophical tradition from Plato to contemporary French thought. It examines how sound is imbricated in the politics of life as it is theorised in the thought of Derrida, Cixous, Agamben, and Malabou, exploring the ramifications for the politics of sound, listening, and voice today.

In addition to these theoretical perspectives, my work also involves a field-recording and creative practice. For projects funded by the Mellon Foundation and a fellowship at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, I have used field recordings and sound walks as methods to investigate precarity, gentrification, and environmental issues. A sound and photograph installation entitled Anti-Fascist Silent Disco, which was based on some of this research, was exhibited in Stuttgart in 2019 and a vitrine showcasing a project Out of Work funded by the Warwick Global Research Priority "Productivity and the Futures of Work" will be on display this autumn.

I am currently Chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences Education Committee and am also an elected representative of the Assembly on the Senate with a commitment to listen above all to those voices most marginalised in our university community.

Further information: Personal site, CV.

Research Profile

Sound studies; recent French philosophy; politics of listening and democracy; urban sound ecologies; environmental humanities; literary sound studies; sonic art and activism.

Academic Profile

Prior to joining CIM in January 2019, I taught Music and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania (2012–2018). Before that, I held postdoctoral fellowships at City University and Indiana University, and taught at the University of Cambridge. I am a graduate of Selwyn College, Cambridge and King’s College London.

Current research projects

My ongoing empirical work deploys a creative praxis of field recording to investigate urban sound ecologies and the conditions of aurality under neoliberal capital and with the rise of right populisms. Supported by grants from the Mellon Humanities+Urbanism+Design Initiative and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, this work includes a study of the sound of precarity in the Parisian banlieues and investigations into practices of sound activism. I have been awarded a fellowship at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2019–20 to continue this work on urban soundscapes with a project entitled “Cart-otographies of Cities: Soundmapping Urban Political Economies.”

Future plans include a project on “ec(h)otechnics” that explores the technological modulation of listening and posthuman modes of aural attunement to the environment. An article beginning to explore this subject is forthcoming for a special issue of diacritics on “The Turn.”

Selected Publications


Shattering Biopolitics: Militant Listening and the Sound of Life (New York: Fordham University Press, ).

Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).


Co-edited with Alexander Rehding, A Cultural History of Music, vol. 5, The Industrial Age (1790–1914), (London: Bloomsbury) [in preparation].

Recent journal articles and book chapters

“Turning Ears, or Ec(h)totechnics,” special issue on The Turn, diacritics [forthcoming]

“The Use of Ears,” Parrhesia: a journal of critical philosophy 33 (2019).

“Giving the Microphone to the Other,” forum on Pooja Rangan’s Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary, The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 7, no. 1 (2019): 216–24.

“Music and Deconstruction,” in Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy, ed. Jerrold Levinson, Nanette Nielsen and Tomas McCauley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

Translator’s introduction to Jean-Luc Nancy, “Galant Music,” in ibid.

“Listening as Monument,” invited essay on Emeka Ogboh’s sound installation Logan Squared: Ode to Philly featuring poet Ursula Rucker, in Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, ed. Ken Lum and Paul M. Farber (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2019).

“A Music Worthy of the Name; Or, Agamben’s Museicology,” CR: The New Centennial Review 18, no. 2 (2018): 179–202.

“The Sonic Habitués of the Strip: Listening in Las Vegas,” Sound Studies 3, no. 2 (2018): 115–33.

“Confronting Continental Philosophy’s Fears of Biologism,” Music & Science 1 (2018).

“Deconstruction and Timbre,” in Oxford Handbook of Timbre and Orchestration, ed. Alexander Rehding and Emily Dolan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

“Form and Repetition: Deleuze, Guillaume & Sonata Theory,” Music Analysis 37, no. 2 (2018): 150–183.

“Haydn’s Impropriety,” Journal of Music Theory 62, no. 1 (2018): 119–44.

“The Time it Takes to Listen,” Music Theory Spectrum 39, no. 1 (2017): 18–35.

“The Sound of the Outside,” boundary 2 43, no. 1 (2016): 75–105.

Modules Taught

IM933: Media Activism

IM937: Listening to Urban Waters

Naomi Waltham-Smith


Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies
Room B0.05
University of Warwick

Email: Naomi dot Waltham-Smith at warwick dot ac dot uk

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