Slicing Sound: Speaker Identification and Sonic Skills at the Stasi, 1966-1989

Karin Bijsterveld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It is well known that the Ministry of State Security in the former German Democratic Republic was deeply involved in wiretapping and eavesdropping on both foreigners and its citizens. It is less widely known that, against this background, the Stasi developed a keen interest in technologies and techniques of speaker identification, such as the visualization of recorded sound and aural analysis. How exactly did Stasi employees analyze the sound of voices? How did listening become a legitimate way of knowing in this context? And why did speaker identification not become as powerful as the Stasi had hoped? Empirically, this essay draws on documents from the Stasi’s former archives. Theoretically, it builds on “sonic skills” in the sciences to clarify the identification practices and distinguishes between the “logic of forensics” and the “logic of surveillance” to understand why the Stasi ran ashore in its sound analysis endeavor. Finally, it aims to contribute to understanding the information paradox in the Stasi historiography and its implications for the history of science.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-241
Number of pages27
JournalISIS. An International Review Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural Influences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021



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