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Anthropology Symposium: Carolyn Stevens

Join us for a lecture by Carolyn Stephens as part of the fall Anthropology Symposium. Free and open to the public.

"Sound as Control in Japan"

Sound, as used in public places, serves a dual purpose in Japan: first, to instruct about consumption; and second, under the guise of ‘public safety’, to exonerate corporations and other entities of liability in the face of individual action. Referencing Hidaka’s Rokurō’s notion of a ‘control society’ (kanrishakai), Stephens looks at the ways Japanese public and private companies use sound (and other sensory prompts) to achieve interrelated goals of profit and public safety in crowded urban spaces. These sonic expressions feature prominently in Japanese public places, such as train stations and shopping areas, via recorded and live announcements. These voices call on the public to buy, or to move this way to buy, but to do so in the absence of other conduct deemed incompatible with public life. To buy or not to buy; to step here but not there: these messages are underscored by a soundtrack of voices and sounds that both entice and forewarn, an apt metaphor for the complex and contradictory rhythm of contemporary urban life in Japan. Stephens examine this soundtrack of warning as an instrument of control, but document individual resistance to sonic discipline through what Stephens calls ‘selective listening’, where the use of technology allows the individual to carve out places of self defined control within the city.

Carolyn S. Stevens is Professor of Japanese Studies and Director of the Japanese Studies Centre at Monash University, Australia. Trained as an anthropologist, she teaches and conducts research in contemporary Japanese society, focussing on popular culture and social problems in Japan. Her major publications include Japanese Popular Music: Culture, Authenticity and Power (2008) Disability in Japan (2013) and The Beatles in Japan (2018), as well as the co-edited volumes Sound, Space and Sociality in Modern Japan (2014) and Internationalising Japan (2014). She is currently Editor in Chief of the interdisciplinary journal Japanese Studies, a Routledge imprint.

Monday, November 19, 2018 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Eliot Hall, 103

Event Type



Students, Open to the Public




Anthropology Symposium


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