Piet Devos

writer and literary theorist


Sonic Boundary Objects: Negotiating disability, technology, and simulation

Thursday 10 November 2016

(Article co-authored with Florian Grond, published in Digital Creativity: health and wellbeing, pp. 1-17)


In this article we present the concept of sonic boundary objects, which we illustrate by discussing the case of binaural sound recordings as a tool, which helps to negotiate between blind and sighted experiences of an urban soundscape. We begin with developing the theoretical underpinning of the concept of a sonic boundary object by briefly elaborating on the relevance of the concept of the boundary object in the context of disability and technology; we then explain the special properties of binaural recordings and revisit the musicological concept of the sound object, whose relationship with technology partly inspired the work in this article. After introducing these concepts and related practices we proceed by proposing the term of a sonic boundary object. We discuss the relationship of the sonic boundary object with the concept of simulation in the context of disability studies and we then elaborate on its potential impact as a complementary practice to blind ethnography and to participatory design approaches. We will demonstrate its ethnographic potential with an account of the authors’ experience using binaural recordings to exchange on what blind navigation is like in Montreal. The article concludes with a first person reflection on this experience and possible fields of application.

Visit this Vimeo page in order to listen to some of the binaural recordings of Piet's walks through Montreal (Please use headphones for listening).

Keywords: disability studies, urban soundscapes, assistive technology, participatory design, blind ethnography.

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