Sonic Difference
CCa 2021 Graduate Proceedings



How to Cite

Donison, J. (2022). Sonic Difference: Reflexive Listening and the Classification of Voice. Stream: Interdisciplinary Journal of Communication, 13(1). Retrieved from


Listening is not a passive practice, but an active response and construction of the exterior world. Although categorizing voices with identity markers helps self-orientation, it can perpetuate false distinctions between “us” and “other” due to the voice’s continually changing, multi-faceted sound and resulting meanings. Jennifer Lynn Stoever (2016) argues that “listening operates as an organ of racial discernment, categorization, and resistance in the shadow of vision’s alleged cultural dominance” (p. 4). Attaching a physical or mental image to a sound produces a sense of intimacy and reassurance that we understand the world. But these are false understandings due to the voice’s ability for alteration. Listening does not dismiss racial essentialism, but culturally reconstitutes it. Difference exists, what matters is how we classify these differences. Listening is important to review because it helps people reflect on their own listening practices that may be taken for granted. By philosophically theorizing listening, we as scholars may come to an understanding of aurality as offering new ways of perceiving and interpreting the world sonically. This article examines how the sound of the voice has discriminatorily been valued and how listening to sound in different ways can help address these discriminatory practices of essentialism that have become standardized. People can begin reflecting on how their listening influences their understanding of sound and voice as markers of identity by practicing “pausing” (Eidsheim, 2019) and “listening out” (Muscat, 2019), two reflexive modes of interpretation challenging dominant listening practices grounded in Western thought and value.

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Copyright (c) 2022 Jeff Donison