Listening to Machines: Industrial Noise, Hearing Loss and the Cultural Meaning of Sound

K.T. Bijsterveld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic


Ever since the eighteenth century, physicians have claimed that the noise of hammering and other industrial activities may induce hearing loss. Protecting workers' hearing by the use of earplugs was one of the solutions proposed, particularly after the Second World War. Employees, however, often declined the medics' help. This article examines the role of the cultural meaning of sound in the clash between the expert definitions of the problem of industrial noise and the response of workers on the shop-floor. It does so by focusing on campaigns to persuade workers to wear earplugs in the Netherlands and Germany. In addition, it reveals how-in a wider Western context-even the position of hearing protection among alternative strategies for fighting industrial noise, such as quieting machines and masking noise with music, came to be influenced by the symbolism of sound and cultures of listening.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-337
JournalInterdisciplinary Science Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006

Cite this