Accepted paper:

Bird sounds and senses of being


Andrew Whitehouse (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores narratives of listening to birds that describe experiences of belonging and alienation. Bird sounds provide an important but subtle element in people's sense of emplacement and changes can have significant, sometimes alienating, effects on people's sense of being.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is drawn from narratives received through the Listening to Birds project, which explores how people perceive and respond to bird sounds. Many narratives describe how people resonate with birds through sound, that is, how they attend to birds by listening as they go about their own activities. This resonance is integral to emplacement and a 'sense of being' and generates feelings of belonging, contentment and home. Listening to birds for some becomes focal to a whole bodily experience of being. But when circumstances change so often do the bird sounds and this paper explores how people respond to these changes. The focus will be on narratives from people who have moved between the UK and Australia and New Zealand, nations with contrasting avifauna. These narratives describe the often alienating initial experience of birds sounding 'wrong' and how people then learn to relate to the different sounds of a new home. I also explore the ways in which the sounds of the old homeland are remembered and what feelings this remembering stirs. As people have moved around the world, so they have sought to make themselves feel more at home by taking bird sounds with them, more recently through technology but in the past in the form of the birds themselves. These narratives are intensely personal but they describe aesthetic experiences of place and nation, defining how home should sound. They emphasise that belonging involves sensory engagement with non-human, as well as human, elements of our environment and that the companionship that birds provide through sound can be a particularly powerful way that people learn to resonate with their surroundings.

panel P13
Senses and citizenships: contestations over national and global identities, resources, and forms of belonging