North Carolina State University
United States of America

Seth Mulliken is a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program at NC State University. His research concerns race and sound studies, especially their intersections and interventions upon each other. Using ethnography and a media studies borrowed from media ecology, his work attempts to address questions about the salience of race and the importance of critical sound studies through an ethnographic process of being present, engaging, witnessing and producing interactions. He seeks an understanding of both oppression and resistance that is dispersed across many sites of human endeavor.

From the outskirts, the melodic experience amplified: A sonic ethnography of race around St. Agnes Hospital

On the campus of St. Augustine’s University, a recognized HBCU, St. Agnes Hospital was until 1961 the only training school for African-American nurses between Richmond and New Orleans. Today, St. Agnes is ‘silent’: a stone shell, weeds growing wild in the interior. The grass around is carefully kept, and the barbed wire fence carefully regulates access. Surrounding St. Agnes is the University, a residential, and a commercial area, all strongly African-American, and a cemetery, which was a segregated, white cemetery until 1972, and remains mostly white to this day. The site of St. Agnes is doubly an intersection: it is an intersection for processes of racialization historic and present, and an intersection of different uses of sound in public space, to define or collapse the access or attention to particular space. It is an ideal space from which to study the processes by which sound is racialized, and how race is produced by sound.

This project is concerned with the relationship between sound and race. Using the mobile ethnographic methods of Phillip Vannini in “Ferry Tales” and Bascher, Urry, and Witchger’s introduction to Mobile Methods, this project seeks to answer the question of how sound becomes racialized in the city by treating both sound and race as fluid, mobile objects. They attach to ‘real’ places and events, manipulate boundaries, move ‘real’ places and situate others. The methods employed here, including interviews, guided walks, audio recordings, and confessional moments of the ethnographer, will attempt to show how the racialization process, when seen as sonic, is mobile, resonant, and able to be intervened upon by people and other forces: institutions, vehicles, and media. The sonic space around St. Agnes is rich in controls of and interventions in the process of producing race, personal, political, institutional, and uniquely sonic in their expression.