Sound as a Metaphor

Sounds of Democracy

The word sound can refer to a wide range of phenomena. Within the sonic spectrum, it is related to all aspects of emerging sounds, including harsh or disturbing noises, subtle hints of musical timbre, a warm musical harmony, or the space-filling shape of an urban soundscape. In linguistics, it is also related to voice and meaning, thinking for instance about the communicational nuances in the tone of a voice. Furthermore, sound as well as sound-related attributes are used as metaphoric sources to describe the complexity of social, cultural, and political spaces or dynamics. The expression sound of silence may give an example of how sound is fundamentally associated with meaningfulness or symbolism, shaping even the absence of sound.

In Sounds of Democracy we specifically refer to the semantics of sound as a metaphoric figure of thought in order to address the question of how democracy sounds today. To grasp this field, we center two interrelated aspects.

First, we are interested in the concepts of voice and discourse which are linked to the question of political moods, or rather moods that are shaped by the individuality of each voice in the diversity of social and political discourse. In this regard, the metaphor of sound is intertwined with different linguistic and affective strategies of discursive positioning. We are thus interested in thinking about such voices as sounds of democracy on a spectrum between utopian or dystopian poles, between harmony and dissonance, between individuality and plurality. Moreover, in political discourses, objects like democracy often entail metaphorical keywords, changing rather abstract ideological notions into expressive rhetorical figures of speech. This may quite differ from how we talk about political topics in everyday life. Therefore, linguistic exploration can access a conceptual level of how democracy sounds through words.

Second, a particular interest in Sounds of Democracy focusses on the concept of listening, involving a broad perspective on the linguistics of political communication. In contrast to hearing in the sense of perceiving, we understand listening as a performative act of communicational participation. Thus, we assume that what we hear and want to hear is shaped by the way we listen. The question arises whether this refers to different discourse practices involving different participant roles of actors and groups of actors. We ask whether liberal vs. authoritarian democracies not only sound differently, but also correlate with a specific distinction between the roles of hearer and listener.

Finally, entering into conversations about Sounds of Democracy and engaging with the metaphor of sound also includes a critical and self-reflective perspective being expressive of democracy today. (CB, HS, IHW)