As a global financial crisis rippled through the late 2000s and early 2010s, with mass political movements rising in its wake, many journalists and critics in the English-language press asked an anxious question: where are the protest songs? But the question was begged: such songs were already presumed gone. This article reorients the question of where the protest songs are toward a broader inquiry into sound’s relationship to dissent. Protest music is best understood as a genre, limited by its musical structure as well as its era. Phrased as where is the sound of dissent, the question takes on renewed urgency. Sonic dissent is emergent in many places and doing vital work. I argue for an analytic of sonic vernacularism, or vernaculars of sonic dissent, that might attend to the historical specificity of sound’s role in dissent, as well as to the ways that sound’s meanings are deliberately unsettled through performances of dissent. I offer a case study from fieldwork conducted during antigovernment protests in Bangkok, Thailand, in the early 2010s to analyze how sound acts, circulates, and refracts meaning in the performance of dissent, later returning to protest music—now to be understood as provincial and ideological.
Sound and Movement: Vernaculars of Sonic Dissent
Benjamin Tausig is assistant professor of music at Stony Brook University. He studies political protest and its sounds in contexts including Thailand and the United States. His first monograph, Bangkok Is Ringing: Sound, Protest, and Constraint, will appear in 2018.
Benjamin Tausig; Sound and Movement: Vernaculars of Sonic Dissent. Social Text 1 September 2018; 36 (3 (136)): 25–45. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-6917754
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