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by Vincent Battesti

Ethnographies Sounded on What? Methodologies, Sounds, and Experiences in Cairo
by Vincent Battesti
published in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sonic Methodologies, edited by Michael Bull & Marcel Cobussen, London, Bloomsbury Press, Bloomsbury Handbooks, 2020, p. 755-778
ISBN: 978-1501338755
DOI: 10.5040/
Website of the publishing house: https://www.bloomsburycollections.c...
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The last decade has seen an increase in academic literature in the humanities and social sciences on the sonic dimension of our world. This chapter asks ‘what’ sounds are of interest to ethnography, ‘why’, and consequently ‘how?’

This chapter, like the rest of this Handbook, is dedicated to the thorny issue of methodologies. From a heuristic point of view, a method (i.e. ‘how’) is only worthwhile if it is based on the answers given to the first two questions, ‘what’ and ‘why’. It is important to draw clear distinctions between these three questions, although they often overlap in the complex and varied context of ethnography (at least for ethnographies that are not fettered upstream of the fieldwork by theory and programmatic approach).

Therefore, it goes without saying that I cannot suggest a ‘good’ and sound methodology to be used in doing ethnographic research, as it depends on the purposes and the context of the fieldwork; and also, as I think of the senses as interconnected and perceive the environment as a whole, an exclusive sonic modality or category will be avoided.

I will give a quick and partial overview of ethnographies that are concerned with sound in order to present my own questions in a more precise and informed way. The journey I propose here does not quite illustrate a categorization that I would come to terms with, it is too incoherent as such, but it is rather a way of bringing about the different methodologies that are, or could be, used in sonic ethnography.


This article is a kind of “state of the art” on the ways in which research in anthropology, or related disciplines that claim to be based on ethnographic methodology, has integrated the sound dimension. He very briefly presents, in conclusion, our own work in Cairo (Egypt) as an example.

Part of a sound system for a street birth party in Bashtīl neighbourhood in Cairo (Egypt), Nov. 18th 2016, by Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti
Discussion between a blacksmith and a patron, in the street of Cairo’s old districts (Egypt), Nov. 28th 2016, by Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti