Accepted Paper:

Crisis Mapping, Participatory Monitoring, and the Problem of Perceptual Indeterminacy  

Author:

Greg Siegel (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Paper short abstract:

The Worldwide Hum Map and Database operates as an agent of participatory environmental monitoring and sensing, as well as an instrument of risk assessment and communication. It aims to demonstrate not merely the Hum’s incidence and extent but also its scientific intelligibility and very reality.

Paper long abstract:

Audible only to an unhappy few, it has been heard in England, Scotland, Canada, the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Often likened to the sound of a diesel engine idling in the distance, it has been described as a persistent, low-pitched droning or buzzing, a pulsing, a throbbing, a rumbling. For some hearers, it is more than a mild annoyance; it is a cause, allegedly, of pain, disease, and severe distress. Despite the efforts of scientists, engineers, and acousticians, the "Hum"—as this anomalous phenomenon is colloquially known—remains both an ontological and an epistemological enigma: a sound of uncertain origin, a noise of unknown identity, a sensation or perception of indeterminate existence.

My paper examines the Worldwide Hum Map and Database (WHMD), a website and blog that assembles crowdsourced data on the Hum's geographic locations, dates and times of occurrence, auditory qualities and intensities, and bodily effects. It also considers the design and construction, by self-motivated individuals, of mechanical and electronic "Hum detectors." As against the evidentially inconclusive investigations conducted by experts under the aegis of dominant institutions, I show how the WHMD and homemade Hum detectors operate as effective agents of participatory environmental monitoring and sensing, as well as popular instruments of risk assessment and communication. Unlike other contemporary "crisis-mapping" projects, however, these civic sociotechnical devices and practices bear an additional, and more fundamental, burden: they must demonstrate not merely the Hum's incidence and extent but also, I argue, its scientific intelligibility and very reality.

Panel T045
New Collective Practices of Measurement, Monitoring and Evidence