The Diabolical Symphony of the Mechanical Age. Technology and Symbolism of Sound in European and North American Noise Abatement Campaigns 1900-40

K.T. Bijsterveld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


New technologies profoundly change our sonic surroundings, the world's soundscape. However, research dealing with the sound of technology is scarce within Science and Technology Studies (S&TS). This study argues that such a silence should be broken, since the sound of technology not only tunes our sonic environment, but has also been a highly controversial aspect of technology loaded with symbolic significance. Research into such a symbolism of sound enhances our understanding of the responses to technology-related changes in early 20th-century Western cities. The importance of sound will be made clear by discussing the historiography and anthropology of noise and silence, and by analyzing a crucial episode in the history of noise abatement in European and North American cities. By showing how the symbolism of sound influenced the noise abatement campaigns and the measures taken in response, the paper illustrates how the study of technological culture can be deepened by focusing on sound.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-70
Number of pages34
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001

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