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Towards a Sonic Ecology of Urban Life: Ethnography of Sound Perceptions in Cairo

Art. (in English) July 2020.

Vincent Battesti , Nicolas Puig

New, just published!
with all the data of this research (sounds and texts) in open access.

Towards a Sonic Ecology of Urban Life: Ethnography of Sound Perceptions in Cairo
by Vincent Battesti and Nicolas Puig
Published in The Senses & Society journal, 2020, vol. 15 (2), p. 170-191.
DOI: 10.1080/17458927.2020.1763606
On the journal’s website:
PDF File:


This paper is a kind of sequel of our earlier paper “The sound of society”: a method for investigating sound perception in Cairo, which presented mainly our methodology and first results.
It offers the final results of our experiment “Mics in the Ears” in Cairo (Egypt).


This study on sound perception in Cairo uses a methodological procedure described in a previous issue of this journal [11(3)]. The procedure involves equipping inhabitants of Cairo, the Egyptian capital, with binaural microphones that record the surrounding urban sounds during one of their daily journeys (without the researcher). Participants later describe and comment on the sounds while listening to the recording. Analysis of this material allowed us first to establish an organized lexicon in categories. We identified a structured “natural language of sounds”. The data obtained reveal covert categories that describe three key domains of urban life: the active city, the city in movement, and the relational city. A principal finding is that sound perception systematically relates sounds to their origin, i.e. both the source and its social situation. This socialization of sound led us to the notion of “sound constructs” as products of an immediate socialization of the perception of sound. Experiment clarifies how perception operates in Cairo, notably through territory differentiation using sonic saliences and soundmarks. Finally, we propose a “sonic ecology” of the city: how residents collectively experience the sound dimensions of their urban territory, navigate between very different territories, recognize them and respond to them.


For scientific use, we provide colleagues with all the fieldwork and post-fieldwork data from this experiment we conducted in Cairo: audio recordings by Cairo inhabitants of their journey through one of the city’s districts, audio recordings of their description of the sounds and their comments on listening to their initial audio recording (raw data), a transcription (in Arabic) of these descriptions and comments, a translation (in French) of these transcriptions (processed data), and finally a map of these journeys and the lexicon we drew from this experiment (analyzed data).

All this is online and free (open access) hosted in the Zenodo research data repository.
The link:

In al-Helmiya, Cairo’s historic popular district; the narrowness of most of its alleys does not allow cars to circulate, Cairo, Egypt, on the night of 31 March 2011 by Vincent Battesti

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Vincent Battesti , Nicolas Puig , "Towards a Sonic Ecology of Urban Life: Ethnography of Sound Perceptions in Cairo " (online), Anthropoasis |, page published 6 July 2020 (consulted 25 May 2024), available on: