“You can hear them before you see them”. Listening through Belfast segregated neighborhoods

Journal of Sonic Studies, 2017

The present research explores urban segregation in Belfast through listening. Specifically, the aim is to investigate how auditory culture subtly and deeply affects everyday lives and how marginal areas can be identified and analyzed from an auditory perspective. Moreover, the paper highlights the strong relationship between everyday sonic environments, certain urban and social issues, and the system of public policies related to the preceding. Therefore, urban planning and public policy design are investigated through a sonic studies approach in order to reveal the political framework of the city.

The sonic environment of Belfast’s most segregated areas is characterized by ice cream van melodies and their propagation within different neighborhoods. Such a street trade, which is also spread over Great Britain and Ireland, represents the perfect opportunity to enter areas that are often difficult to approach.

Our case study shows how a study of the production and reception of the moving melodies emanating from ice cream vans is crucial in detecting where and how Belfast's contemporary culture is developing and in what ways sonic studies may influence a new wave of inclusion policies. The sounds of ice cream vans and their dissemination can be investigated to both confirm and challenge Belfast’s segregation trend; understanding them offers practitioners and dwellers an unexplored “sonic tool” to discuss segregation.

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photo credits Nicola Di Croce