Symposium Introduction

I turned to sound studies as a resource for teaching, several years ago, when my teaching practices were beginning to seem stale. Sound studies, especially at the intersections with critical disability studies and feminist philosophy, quite quickly turned the staleness into a whole array of creative problems to work with. 

On the one hand, for example, sound studies scholars like Nina Sun Eidsheim flag the ways in which our habits of perception can keep intact those systems of oppression that our critical pedagogies seek to undo. We hear a sound and swiftly ask a disciplining question, one that Eidsheim calls the “acousmatic question”: who made that sound? Instead of responding to sounds with this question, Eidsheim suggests, we can examine our own enculturated and experience-based perceptions: what do my listening habits demonstrate about my assumptions and the habitual ways in which I “hear” and adjudicate sounds?1 

This interplay between sounds and listening underscores the kinds of reflections that crip theorists solicit. Margaret Price asks, for example, how a shared space like a classroom might afford different experiences, pointing out that “not all of us, in academia, are inhabiting the same spacetime.”2 Along similar lines, in a contribution to this symposium, Joshua St. Pierre points to intervocality—a key conceptual contribution of Sounding Bodies—as an event, produced by capacities of speakers as well as listeners that, in any given situation, will shape exchanges in particular ways. Even staleness, as a quality of teaching-practice, starts to signal the in-betweenness of teaching and learning, opening up the relationality of specific classroom encounters.

On the other hand, by attending to listening habits, we can think concretely about the constraints of listening itself. As Jill Stauffer suggests, you can “open yourself to surprise to the sometimes unwelcome sense that you do not already have at hand the tools you need for hearing and responding.”3 This point collides, somewhat, with my motivation to tap the liveliness of sound studies for crafting courses and delivering lessons. How do we know what we don’t know when it comes to our “tools” by which knowledge comes to count as knowledge? As Ann Cahill and Christine Hamel explain in Sounding Bodies, “who gets to speak, how frequently, and for how long” are prompts that open up the sonic terms by which spaces, like classrooms, come to hold claims to authority (162), so much so that mechanics of oppression emerge as salient to the material aspects of speaking and listening (3, 16–21). 

This brings me to a third lesson of sound studies, one that runs throughout Sounding Bodies, and this symposium as a whole. I have been stopped in my tracks by statements like this one by Billy-Ray Belcourt. “To my mind,” Belcourt writes in A History of My Brief Body, “one of the most vital modalities of decolonial life is that of remaining unaddressable to a settler public that feasts on our misery.” And then, with barely a beat, Belcourt continues, “Most of the time writing a book seems incompatible with this.”4 

In my own classes, this tiny beat is where we settle into conversation as a class, sharing musings from our positions around the room about the impasse that Belcourt is flagging here. “What is the incompatibility that Belcourt is identifying?” I ask, as we reflect on the conditions by which a settler professor has assigned a book that contains passages like this one. There is no acousmatic question to pose when a sound or a text shifts the terms by which it might be audible or legible to others. Rather, conditions of reading and discussing themselves emerge as problems. As Margaret Kemp puts it, in the first response of this symposium, there is an archive and also a container to the modes by which we read, choose texts for students to read, and engage with others through reading, writing, and conversation. “What is the container designed to hold?” Kemp asks. “Who made the container? What does the container exclude?” 

These questions draw us into the exchanges that make up this symposium, and they also get to the heart of the project of Sounding Bodies. Cast as a container, our disciplines form us into the kinds of teachers who presume we know what “counts” as teaching and learning. We become shaped into some version of a gatekeeper, assigning texts from specific archives and producing texts in turn. This is one reason for my own enthusiastic response to Cahill and Hamel’s co-written book, especially in terms of its creative and transdisciplinary willingness to rethink the forms of disciplines themselves: its sustained focus on the forms and practices by which training occurs, from professional theatre and voice settings to our various institutional classrooms, brings the sonic aspects of these sites to life, as well as their ethical and political stakes. 

Bringing feminist philosophy and theatre studies together, Sounding Bodies engages sound and sound studies in order to think through concrete somatic practices—like voice and the pedagogies by which voices get trained; like ears and the import of how listening practices take place; like soundscapes and the interplay between voices, hearing, and systemic modes of injustice. As Antonio Ocampo-Guzman’s response makes clear, the disciplining work that makes up voice-training is, itself, a matter of impassioned and particular vocational discipline: investing in a teacher like Kristin Linklater brings along with it a set of epistemological and somatic practices. Ocampo-Guzman captures the stakes of the feedback loops between one’s own training and the practices by which one goes on to train others. These stakes take on the valence of existential commitments, given how fully these practices can shape the terrain of what counts as teaching and learning, and, indeed, what gets excluded as meaningful forms of engagement. 

What rarely happens, when it comes to exchanges about pedagogy or teacher-training, is what unfolds in Cahill and Hamel’s response to Kemp: a naming of how disorienting it can seem to feel unaddressed, at least in terms of one’s expectations about an exchange. Teachers, whether in the classroom or in a professional setting like a symposium, are not often hailed into this kind of vulnerability. And so another reason for how much I enjoy and will enjoy teaching Sounding Bodies has to do with this openness in the book itself to difficulty, disorientation, even impasse. Where Ocampo-Guzman brings us to the affective terrain of dedication, even devotion, to a pedagogical practice, Kemp shares how it felt, somatically and epistemologically, to inhabit a classroom-space as a student whose voice was not hailed, and whose insights required other tools or containers that are not available. Through this first-person reflection, Kemp shifts the terms of exchange, as Cahill and Hamel fully enter into questions about invitation, exclusion, and even silence. 

In turn, Jack Leff, in the fourth response in this symposium, directs our attention to many other forms of container at play in sonic scenarios: the microphones that amplify a speaker’s voice, for example, and the affective valences by which speech or silence generate meanings not reducible to the contents of a declaration. Leff then turns to an example of dissonance—a megaphone, put to use by activists inhabiting public spaces in resistance to state-powers. Bringing feminist science and technology studies into the conversation, Leff’s response works beautifully alongside that of St. Pierre’s. (For readers who might assign this symposium to students, my suggestion is to pair Kemp and Ocampo-Guzman’s responses, so richly inflected with queries about pedagogy and training, and then to pair St. Pierre and Kemp’s responses, which turn the focus towards the materialist systems of (dis)ability and technology). 

As St. Pierre notes in the second response, Sounding Bodies is a book that expansively and persuasively examines problems that have preoccupied many of us for a long time—and, indeed, St. Pierre’s own new book, Cheap Talk: Disability and the Politics of Communication, is the focus of a forthcoming Syndicate symposium. As a feminist project, Sounding Bodies models a generosity of prose—with first-person stories and collaboratively written analyses—that many readers will find engaging and exemplary. By turning feminist philosophy itself into a practice, a mode to scrutinize and reflect upon, Cahill and Hamel provide those of us in philosophy, in particular, a deeply promising way to confront our own practices, from teaching to everyday interactions.     

  1. Nina Sun Eidsheim, The Race of Sound: Listening, Timbre, and Vocality in African American Music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 24.

  2. Margaret Price, “Time Harms: Disabled Faculty Navigating the Accommodations Loop,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 120, no. 2(2021): 263.

  3. Jill Stauffer, Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Bering Heard (New York: Columbia, 2018), 69.

  4. Billy-Ray Belcourt, A History of My Brief Body (Toronto: Penguin Random House, 2021), 95-6.

Margaret Kemp


Voicing My Quiet 

And to read imaginative literature by and about us is to choose to examine centers of the self.

-Toni Morrison 

As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Audre Lorde


Sounding Bodies: Identity, Injustice, and the Voice. The title of this work by Ann J. Cahill and Christine Hamel intrigues me. As a performing artist and theater teacher (voice, speech, and acting) whose instruction is rooted in social justice, I was fired up to dig in.

The italicized portion of the following statement squelched the fire: “Our aim as coauthors in initiating this scholarly conversation embracing two distinct fields (feminist philosophy and theatre studies) is to focus on the politics of voice and to increase attunement to various forms of vocal injustice” (1). This declaration awoke in me a pot of questions that has been simmering on the stove for the past thirty years. 

During the late 1980s, in a large lecture hall with more than one hundred and fifty white female students, I sat between two African American friends and classmates in my very first feminist philosophy class. We three—the only Black students in the class—were from the Northeast, Midwest, and Deep South regions of the United States. The three of us never spoke within the container that is the class/room. This non-speaking was partially because there never seemed to be room for our voices or thoughts. Inclusion needs to be intentional in a class with over one hundred and fifty students. The instructor did not “intend to include” us. It was also partially due to the fear of reprisal if we fully expressed our thoughts. What would happen to our grades if we disagreed? 

So, it surprised two of us (or perhaps even all three of us) when Kim Branch arose matter-of-factly from her place between us and addressed the room with the same nonchalance with which the white students engaged. “What is all the fuss about?” she said. “I don’t even see why this is a subject at all. My mother, grandmother, and great-gran have dealt with this stuff all their lives! Y’all acting like these ideas are news. Like you thought them up. These ideas have been part of my life forever. Is it because you just noticed it, put a label on it…is that why it’s now important to study—important to change?” 

After class, I recall Kim shaking while voicing, “I just had to say it…I just had to speak.” Responding to Sounding Bodies, I feel a lot like Kim Branch did on that day thirty years ago. I struggle with feminist philosophy as a lens through which to enter this book, as well as my personal art and craft of teaching. 

Before embarking on this essay, I tried to put that experience—that weight of my personal relationship to feminist philosophy—away. I don’t think about feminist philosophy much. But reading the words stirred an anxious physical response in my chest (or heart). Secretly, I wished I hadn’t said yes to writing this response. I had hoped to put my personal response away quickly and get into the very rich research that is a part of this book. But I couldn’t. I had to reconnect with the roots of the physical response before I could rigorously engage with the entire book. 

I have a lot in common with author Roxanne Gay, who admits in her ground-breaking book Bad Feminist that it is not useful in the world we live in today to freely accept, without interrogation, the term “feminist philosophy.” On March 4, 2022, I did a keyword image search for the term “feminism,” and this image emerged early on:

TIME—past, present, and future. TIME lingers here. The photo hit me in the gut. Like this photograph, the term “feminist theory” has an archive that needs attending. What is the unspoken historical structure in this image? What is the relationship between the settled body of Gloria Steinem and the space she inhabits in this photo? The ease in her body and face are equally welcoming and troubling. See how the floor, which in this photo looks cloud-like, supports the anti-war protest language (or is it?) that she effortlessly holds. 

In this essay, I am meditating on how to enter the term feminist philosophy. I am picking under the space around the seated Steinem as well as the red frame that holds the image. The quote from the book’s introduction is on repeat in my brain: “Our aim as coauthors in initiating this scholarly conversation embracing two distinct fields (feminist philosophy and theatre studies) is to focus attention on the politics of voice and to increase attunement to various forms of vocal injustice.”

“Focusing attention” through the lens of feminist theory requires me to interrogate that lens as an archive and a container. What is the container designed to hold? Who made the container? What does the container exclude? 

Revered African American thinkers and artists such as Toni Morrison and Fred Moten insist that the African American autobiographical voice holds a place as theory in intra- and inter-disciplinary fields within the academy. I feel the same, so starting this response with an autobiographical narrative is natural to me. However, I am an African American female performing artist. And what I am actually politely saying is that, culturally and academically, many people may feel I don’t have the credentials—or, as one colleague of my current institution said, I “don’t have the scholarship to participate in critical dialogues.” Mirroring my undergraduate experience, my voice is rarely brought into academic and philosophical rooms. So, participating in this dialogue is a first for me. I acknowledge the intention of Cahill and Hamel to bring a new voice into the academy to rigorously interrogate the archive that rests behind the history of marginalization and in light of the current political and social unrest (too soft of a word) that threaten the nation and the world. I appreciate the opportunity to participate and voice my quiet.

For me to move forward, I needed to move back and find a new relationship with “feminism” as a philosophy. I could go way, way back to Phillis Wheatly or way back to Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Seneca Falls in the interest of addressing years of erasure in scholarship and history. I offer these names for those who don’t know how they to connect the subject at hand. If you are reading this and don’t know these names, you should look them up. But in the interest of time, I will just go back to Audre Lorde, who in the 1970s led the way in questioning the fears that arise when difference is acknowledged. She made this point often: “Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways to actively ‘be’ in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.”1 I love this statement. It applies directly to the work that Cahill and Hamel contribute to the field of voice pedagogy and practice. With this statement, Lorde, like me, is questioning the idea of feminism and asking more of those who consider themselves feminist. Since there is no way for me to un-feel the dis-easy messiness this term stirs in my body, I question what Cahill and Hamel have set out to do in their book. I wonder: how one can question attunement to various forms of vocal injustice without first troubling the lens of “feminist philosophy” as an archive that historically holds within its own frame “various forms of vocal injustice?” 

To rigorously engage with Sounding Bodies, I gathered my friends beside me, just as I had in my undergraduate class. Now, however, my friends are no longer quiet. They are vocal across time and disciplines. My friends are my imagined colleagues—those whose scholarship, interests, and curiosity have helped me parse through my dis-ease to update and reimagine the term “feminist theory.” I had conversations with these friends in the form of reading the works of bell hooks, Jennifer C. Nash, Christina Sharpe, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, and Cherie Moraga, to name a few. I also refreshed my relationship with civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. 

While “intersectionality” is defined in Sounding Bodies, it is helpful to reiterate that it describes how systems of oppression overlap to create distinct experiences for people with multiple identity categories.2 The legal roots are important, and, in acknowledging the metaphorical value of the term, it is important to acknowledge Crenshaw’s own thought (as labor): “Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them.”3 In Black Feminism after Intersectionality, Jennifer C. Nash offers this additional and necessary reflection:

I treat the word “black” in front of “feminism” not as a marker of identity but as a political category, and I understand a “black feminist” approach to be one that centers analyses of racialized sexisms and homophobia, and that foregrounds black women as intellectual producers, as creative agents, as political subjects, and as “freedom dreamers” even as the content and contours of those dreams vary. I advance a conception of black feminism that is expansive, welcoming anyone with an investment in black women’s humanity, intellectual labor, and political visionary work, anyone with an investment in theorizing black genders and sexualities in complex and nuanced ways.4

To enter the work of Sounding Bodies, I had to listen for and hear the many voices of the Black feminists whose scholarship and voices are imbedded in the scholarship but have been “disappeared” by the academy and by those who call themselves feminists. 

Saidiya Hartman’s “speculative histories” practice offers another way to listen to Black feminists. Hartman’s work is the product of years of wading through heaps of handwritten notes on the backs of photos, police records, post cards, love letters, bills, eviction notices, and other found materials. She mingles her findings to write what she calls speculative fiction, bringing the ambient sounds and minor keys of Black life into the room. Reading her work, I couldn’t help but exclaim: this is feminist voice theory and pedagogy. The texts engaged here are a type of autobiography that, when excluded from feminist philosophy, represent disappeared black intellectual labor and thought. And here, Jennifer C. Nash’s words become even more salient:

I invest in a broad conception of black feminism—and black feminists—precisely because of my commitment to tracing black feminist theory’s expansive intellectual, political, ethical, and creative reach, one that I see as always transcending attempts to limit the tradition by rooting it in embodied performances. Moreover, it is the ongoing conception that black feminism is the exclusive territory of black women that traps and limits black feminists and black women academics who continue to be conscripted into performing and embodying their intellectual investments.5

My thoughts fall into free jazz…

A Container
Not Silent
A vessel.
A vessel?
Even when quiet
Even when disappeared.
A strategy among strategies for
For recovery.

As I continued to write this essay, I started to feel like a kind of feminist who was developing a “Black feminist after intersectionality, post-Black Lives Matter”-type of feminist philosophy. I realized that for me to fully “be in the room/salon,” I need to engage in the recovery work of the feminist archive that has been disappeared by universities, the academy, and scholars.

I agree with the call to action that is Sounding Bodies:

In the wake of the social, political, and racial reckoning of our time, there is a call for voice pedagogues to question every aspect of teaching and coaching practices; we aim in this text not simply to provide (or rush to the edification of) “best practices” (though some possibilities will be provided) but, first, to develop a set of theoretical principles and frameworks out of which new practices may be born” (1).

I agree with it, and add my voice, saying: we, as colleagues, have work to do. This work starts with and must remain with questioning the framework, questioning around the framework, and questioning in a detailed manner what is holding the frame. Dear reader, to know who I am, know that I am responding to Sounding Bodies through my lens as a Black feminist after intersectionality and post-Black Lives Matter, engage in the recovery work of Black and Brown critical thought.

The anxious feelings this book woke within my heart have started to relax. Part of the importance of this book is that it asks a willing, curious reader to examine the book as an abundant text filled with useful and challenging materials presented by both authors. It invites readers to examine the lens through which the material is presented as an opportunity to deeply examine oneself as academic, artist, teacher, and human being. I suggest that from this self-examination, you may discover your own strategy for reimagining your work and yourself, as I have. 

Emerging from Sounding Bodies, I embrace my own lens: Black feminism, after intersectionality, within Black Lives Matter, engaged in the recovery work of Black and Brown critical thought. It is my framework and dialectical strategy as I embark on re-shaping existing pedagogies and inventing new approaches for voice training. 

  1. Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches of Audre Lorde (Berkeley: Crossing, 1984), 111.

  2. Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991), 1241–99.

  3. Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1, Article 8, 149.

  4. Jennifer C. Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (Duke University Press, 2019), 5.

  5. Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined, 5.

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    Ann J. Cahill and Christine Hamel


    Response to Margaret Kemp

    Among the many helpful contributions that Kemp has made to this conversation is the reminder to pay attention to—and indeed, for authors to, in a complicated and perhaps limited way, be accountable for—the ways in which phrases, words, references, etc., can hit bodies. That one phrase, “feminist philosophy,” stopped Kemp in her tracks, bringing to mind memories of painful and frustrating acts of erasure and exclusion, and “stir[ring] an anxious physical response in [her] chest (or heart)” reminds us that there is no such thing as a purely cognitive, ideally neutral exchange of ideas. We generate and receive ideas much as we generate and receive vocal sounds: as embodied beings, embedded in long-standing patterns of injustice, with histories that are older than our bodies. More to Kemp’s point: as co-authors who identify as white cishet women, we relied on the tools of feminist philosophy without a sufficiently explicit recognition that that academic discourse remains deeply marked by the habits, norms, and values of white supremacy, and that it is possible to name and challenge that heritage while simultaneously lifting up the crucial contributions that women of color have made to the field. Powerful though it may be, white supremacy has never succeeded completely in the erasure that it seeks, and so the task of dismantling the racism that has shaped feminist theory includes (but is not limited to) recentering feminist philosophical conversations on contributions made by people of the global majority of all genders. As we tarried with Kemp’s comment, we found ourselves reflecting on ways that structural and interpersonal dynamics—and perhaps more to the point, dynamics that muddy the structural/interpersonal distinction—shape lived experiences of sharing and receiving even the most theoretical of insights.

    One of our responses to Kemp’s comment that we ended up reflecting on extensively was a peculiar disorientation. Where in Kemp’s response, we wondered, are our ideas? Where are the questions and commentary on the terms we had coined, insights we had generated, arguments we had made? We were listening for a certain orientation and direction, and found ourselves flailing a bit in its absence, and that flailing, imbued by a sense, if we’re honest, of not receiving that which we had expected, created a barrier to receiving what Kemp was offering. Kemp interrupted the rhythm of our thinking, our argumentation, our academic/intellectual breath. 

    It was only in the process of becoming aware of our expectations, of what we were listening toward, that we could register them as both problematic and limiting. After all, although Sounding Bodies challenges some forms of academic discourse, particularly in its use of multiple disciplines and co-authorship, it is certainly legible within academic conversations, and becomes so by participating in conventions that have been used to exclude entire social groups. That legibility, that discursive belonging, is directly related to our expectations. We presumed  to be replied to in kind. But to be replied to in kind would necessitate, or at least make more likely, the perpetuation of those very exclusions. In order to be able to receive Kemp’s response, then, we needed to put aside those assumptions  and become able to hear other kinds of insights. 

    That experience inspired us to think about different forms of barriers that can exist between and among interlocutors. Kemp ran up against a barrier in our work, a barrier of systemic exclusion and erasure that she needed to grapple with before she could engage substantially with our thought. We ran up against a barrier in hearing her critique, a barrier clearly manufactured by the whiteness of academic discourse that promises the kind of attention that requires the bracketing of the experiences of excluded groups, including people of color. We are grateful that in both cases, those barriers could be addressed in ways that (we hope) forward both justice and deepened understanding. But we’re also aware that not all barriers are pernicious, and not all should be overcome. For example, in Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (2020), Dylan Robinson informs the reader early on that there will be sections of the book that settler readers are not invited to read, stating “if you are a non-Indigenous, settler, ally, or xwelítem reader, I ask that you stop reading by the end of this page…The next section of the book…is written exclusively for Indigenous readers” (Robinson, 25). Consistent with the work’s analysis of settler listening practices as persistently extractive, the barrier that Robinson constructs is an attempt to protect indigenous knowledge from consumers who almost certainly do not have the capacities to receive it in a just and helpful way.

    (Cahill, in a solo voice) In a small reading group that was reading Hungry Listening, I heard and shared different experiences with this exclusionary move, rare in its orientation toward settler readers. My own experience consisted of, on the first read of the book, skipping over the named sections in a conscious choice to honor the author’s request. When returning to the book in preparation for a meeting of the reading group, having forgotten which sections were subject to this request, I started leafing through the book, and wondered why there were no notes in the margins of certain pages. Had I failed to do the reading assigned by the group? (A horrific thought for this dutiful group member.) It took me a couple of minutes of starting to skim the material before I realized my mistake, a mistake that horrified me again; this was a serious transgression that I regretted. The two other members of the reading group, neither of whom identify as indigenous, had also skipped the sections, but knew other non-indigenous readers who had fairly blithely ignored the author’s request. 

    (Return to co-authored voice) Robinson’s barrier puts the lie to the rarely challenged claim, a claim deeply embedded in the norms and values of a distinctly white liberalism, that the sharing of ideas and knowledge should take place with little or no accounting for and of social and political positionalities that shape capacities. If Kemp’s response helps to remind us that words impact bodies differently, Robinson’s request allows us to understand that not all knowledge is for all bodies. Exposing indigenous knowledge to extractive settler listening practices opens both the knowledge and indigenous knowers to epistemic violence and injustice, and potentially to direct and/or physical violence and injustice (if that claim seems hyperbolic, we recommend Hungry Listening for an extensive treatment of those causal links). Can settlers learn to receive indigenous knowledge in just ways? Perhaps; but surely the first step in that learning process is countering the settler sense of entitlement that rails against any epistemic boundary. The settler reader who ignores Robinson’s request almost certainly cannot receive the knowledge in those sections of the book justly.

    (Hamel, in a solo voice) Kemp’s response to Sounding Bodies illuminated the ways in which academic discourse framed by its own history of social and political exclusion can live in the body of the reader in immediate and visceral ways. It also provided a context for understanding that this critical work is a dialogue between people in relationship; and in the case of Margaret and myself, we have trained as actors in shared spaces, have been mutually led in workshops by each other, have even been teaching colleagues briefly at the same institution, and have become friends. The nature of the acting method that we both continue to train in and explore is psychophysical in nature; and not only do we share ideas as colleagues, but we share practices as bodies who breathe, sound, imagine, and feel. Our academic discipline (theatre/performance) is one that directly accesses bodily memory, felt sensations and emotions, and the dynamics of relationship.

    There can be a real tenderness and vulnerability in the exchange of challenging ideas, particularly in a professional friendship. As artists who have a strong intellectual bent, both Margaret and myself straddle spaces that tend not to easily align; in Chapter 6 of Sounding Bodies I refer specifically to the ways in which voice/acting trainers have felt excluded from Academic Discourse and have historically held anti-academic bias. And yet, this straddled space we inhabit is one that seems to blur the neat and tidy divisions between the artistic and the academic, the personal and the professional, sounding bodies and the written word. There were high personal stakes at work here; and in writing this piece to a friend there was I believe a fear that Kemp’s words might be taken personally on my part. In a very real way, I believe we both had moments of holding our breath, full of feeling, eager to connect and clear the air.

    Central to this conversation are the ways in which expectations, assumptions, and beliefs have both been framed by long histories of exclusion, and continue to be felt in an immediate and bodily way that seem fundamental to the questions and investigations at the core of the book. Importantly, it is in this response that I am interested in what breath can provide in my responsibility (in a literal sense, too, of an “ability to respond”) to such critique: breath to imagine a reframing (a rewriting?) of the introduction to the book that might help remove barriers to access; breath to acknowledge with ease that we could not, and did not, as white authors, write Sounding Bodies outside the stream of white supremacy and its effects, and breath in not being at all surprised that we could in ways continue to be a conduit of it. 

    And so I now write—full of gratitude—not only to have received a response from Margaret that was so deeply felt, personal, and challenging to an easy assumption of access, but that she took the risk to ask a colleague and friend to consider the ways in which the very history of the discipline of (feminist) philosophy in academic discourse had a weighty presence in her reading and how carefully she navigated that weight in her generous written (and spoken) response.

Joshua St. Pierre


The Ethics of Envoicing and Respiratory Care 

I confess a selfish thought that kept turning the pages of this incredible book: my past decade of work would have been far easier with it in hand. In 2012, critical literature on stuttering was scant and the idea of dysfluency studies was just starting to bud (in both activist and scholarly circles). The discursive territory of the stuttering voice had been dominated by scientific-medical experts who specialize in reductionism. I hated my voice growing up because of the injustice that clung to it, and what could the Speech-Language Pathologists who register vocal injustice as sad but inevitable outcomes of pathology offer in redress but condolence paired with techniques to fix my voice and my self-esteem? 

Over the past ten or so years, dysfluency studies and activism have worked to contest this hegemony claimed over the stuttering voice. My own part of this work began in 2012 as a new graduate student with a hunch that stuttering was (without using the term) intervocal, a shared event produced by the capacities of both speakers and listeners. Cahill and Hamel cite this line: “What if we saw stuttering as constructed by a hearer prejudiced against ‘broken’ speech as well as its speaker, and thus as a product of ableism?” (St. Pierre 2012, 6). But without a robust theory of intervocality to draw from—and thus, a sufficient theory of vocal injustice and ethics—I have made due trying to cobble hunches together with bits of phenomenology (e.g. Merleau-Ponty and Iris Marion Young), critical theory (e.g. Foucault, Deleuze, and various neo-Marxists), and crip theory (e.g. Margrit Shildrick and Robert McRuer). 

This is all to say that reading Sounding Bodies felt like someone connecting pieces of a familiar puzzle, one I even contributed a small part in making, but could not quite put together. The collaboration of Cahill and Hamel—of philosophy and voice studies—provides the footing necessary to stay with the trouble when the voice leaks past disciplinary boundaries. It is one thing to claim stuttering is shared; quite another to provide a theory of intervocality that can articulate “the ways in which voiced human beings are responsible for each other’s voices, individually and collectively, sonorously and politically” (64). What makes their argument that the voice is ontologically relational rather than “a set of capacities generated within and primarily exercised by a self-contained, autonomous person” (26) so compelling is that the argument does not exclude, oppose, or even set in tension the materiality of the voice from its political and the ethical aspects. Cahill and Hamel’s articulations of “vocal injustice” and the “ethics of envoicing” flow directly from the facticity of the sonorous voice, from the fact that voice cannot be pinned to an original, individual source. 

Attention to intervocality thus opens a world of radical interdependency, and I was struck while reading by the resonance between intervocality, dysfluency studies, and crip theory more generally. There is so much resonance that for the sake of this piece, I will restrict my comments to just a small passage. That is to say, perhaps the most striking connection was about human breath. Cahill and Hamel write: 

On a fundamental level . . . part of the ethics of envocicing is a recognition of respiratory responsibility, a sense that precisely because no one individual body can fully control or determine the content of the air that the body takes in, or the flow of the air in the inhabited space, we all bear collective responsibility for each other’s breath. . . . Moreover, respiratory responsibility extends beyond the responsibility for the content of the breathed air to responsibility for social and economic situations that preclude or forward access to stress-free, easy breathing (67). 

Breath is the primal ground of human voice, yet access to easy-breathing is distributed unevenly across social, economic, and political contexts. Whose breath has to be stifled for others to breathe comfortably in social contexts? Or, to use Cahill and Hamel’s example, Eric Gardner’s dying plea “I can’t breathe” indicts us all in different ways when we bear collective responsibility for each other’s breath. As in the above paragraph, the sense of responsibility that emerges from Cahill and Hamel is not duty-based, but rather is an ethos that groundswells from the shared act of, here, metabolizing oxygen. To be responsible is to become responsive to the contingencies of the moment that continually recreate “the possibilities for intelligibility, recognition, and communication” (66). 

In addition to respiratory responsibility, it also makes sense to speak of “respiratory governance”—that is, the host of techniques applied to the human subject to maximize the calculability and thus efficiency of human breath. Danielle Peers writes in “From Inhalation to Inspiration: A Genealogical Auto-ethnography of a Supercrip,” that “[my coaches] subject[ed] me to repetitive disciplinary practices that shaped my breath into increasingly athletically useful and efficient forms. They helped to mold me into the kind of person who would continuously monitor, discipline, and use breathing toward increasingly athletic ends” (2015, 333). Maintaining the identity of a “supercrip” depends upon the uninterrupted performance of non-laboured breathing, such that any lapse, any gasping for air, risks the supercrip being exposed as a faker and fraud.     

I was never a Paralympian athlete, but my respiratory capacities as a stutterer were also caught in a matrix of disciplinary techniques. For as long as Speech-Language Pathology has existed as a discipline (cf. St. Pierre and St. Pierre 2018), easy-breathing exercises have been mobilized to induce easy-sounding vocalizations. As a UK based group explains, “Breathing exercises are commonly used in speech and language therapy for individuals who have difficulties with the volume of their voice and those who find it difficult to sequence and coordinate breathing, voice and articulation in order to gain effective speech” (SLT, 2022). Through a repetition of disciplinary practices, SLPs helped mold me into a kind of person who used slow and easy breathing to achieve fluent (i.e. acceptable) communication. I have early memories of an SLP shaming me for vocal fry and explaining that I could sound normal if I could control my breathing. That stutterers find their breath shortened or stopped during conversation is made to be a problem of the individual body that requires therapeutic intervention, rather than the problem of the unequal sharing of respiratory goods. 

For both Peers and myself, like many other marginalized peoples, acceptance into the social world depended upon a mastery of disciplinary norms that turn breath into resource and breathing into technique. For many members of disability communities during COVID, masks and ventilators have risen to the forefront of this struggle. But, returning to Cahill and Hamel, respiratory governance does not have the final word. One way to extend the idea of “individual and collective responsibility for the air that fills our own and other’s lungs” (81) is through what Peers and Lindsay Eales call a crip ethic of collective care (Peers and Eales 2017). For a certain period in their life—during their fall from supercripdom—Peers depended upon the labour of other people to manually inflate and deflate their lungs. I suggest this exemplifies, in quite a dramatic way, the movement from respiratory governance to a form of respiratory interdependence. Peers writes: 

Pressurized oxygen scorches my lungs for the first time: dry bursts burning relief into thirsty tissue and tired muscle. The exhalation is then squeezed out of me by the hands of a caring respiratory therapist. My skin shifts from the blue-white hue of oxygen deprivation to the distinctly red hue of shame. With that stale, mucus-filled, first dependent breath, I begin my voyage as a sickly, revolting gimp. (2015, 340).  

Over time, the shame that resides in medicalized dependency was transformed by Peers and their community into something quite different: a practice of co-breathing as a mode of radical, collaborative care. Below is a transliteration from a later article of a crip dance performance by Peers and their partner Lindsay Eales: 

Lindsay rolls to kneeling behind Danielle-on-mat, palm them with one hand on either side and wraps her fingers to lace between Danielle’s ribs. Lindsay and Danielle meld into a collective breathing sculpture, collectively directing time through inhalation. Palms squeezing exhalation to an audible wheeze from Danielle’s lips. The audience fuses with this breathing assemblage, casting heat, warmth, and silence over this intimate scene, painting Lindsay and Danielle’s cheeks with a faint blush (Peers and Eales 2017, 119).

The difference is notable: from the red hue of shame to the faint blush of intimacy. Eales and Peers together form a breathing assemblage held together by desire and mutual responsiveness rather than pre-assigned roles (expert and gimp) that are mediated by technological devices. It follows that while the medicalized breathing assemblage tries to mete out respiratory responsibility, they are indifferent to its own becoming and thus have no capacity to direct the becoming of time. Put otherwise, a breathing assemblage cast with collective care and radical interdependency is attuned to what William Connolly calls the “dissonant conjunction of the moment” where “the pressures of the past enter into a dissonant conjunction with the uncertain possibilities of the future” (2002, 145). While crip assemblages like collective breathing sculptures seek out such “rifts in time,” ableist practices suppress the dissonance and the new/uncertain/creative possibilities of the future. Without an ethos of collective care (closely related to what Cahill and Hamel term “respiratory generosity” [81]), breathing assemblages are prone to collapse into a set of techniques of respiratory governance that function only to metabolize the past.   

A final thought down this rabbit hole. Cahill and Hamel argue compellingly that “[o]ne’s capacity to breathe, right to breathe, and quality of breath are in a constant state of material becoming” (66). Bruno Latour would agree and add a slight twist:  

Are we “in” the atmosphere? Not really, since this dangerous poison is itself the unforeseen consequence of the action of micro-organisms that have given to other
actors–from which we descend–the opportunity to develop. In other words, we are the atmosphere. Oxygen is a relative newcomer, a massive case of pollution that was grasped by new forms of life as a golden opportunity, after it had annihilated billions of earlier
forms of life (2017, 105).

We are the atmosphere insofar it has developed and exists through the actions of oxygen-metabolizing organisms. Breathable air is likewise not the background for human action that can be taken for granted, it is human action. This adds additional weight to Cahill and Hamel’s point that “the possibilities for intelligibility, recognition, and communication are continually recreated” and that we bear collective responsibility for these material possibilities. 



Cahill, Ann J. and Christine Hamel. Sounding Bodies: Identity, Injustice, and the Voice. New York: Methuen Drama, 2022. 

Connolly, William E. Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2002. 

Latour, Bruno. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Translated by Catherine Porter. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2017.

Peers, Danielle. “From inhalation to inspiration: A genealogical auto-ethnography of a supercrip.” In Foucault and the government of disability, edited by S. Tremain, 331–49. 2nd edition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. 

Peers, Danielle and Lindsay Eales. “Moving Materiality: People, Tools, & This Thing Called Disability.” Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, 2.2 (2017): 101–25. 

SLT. 2022. “Breathing Exercises.” SLT. Accessed March 16, 2022.

St. Pierre, Joshua. “The Construction of the Disabled Speaker: Locating Stuttering in Disability Studies.” The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 1.3 (2012): 1-21.

St. Pierre, Joshua and Charis St. Pierre. “Governing the Voice: A Critical History of Speech-Language Pathology.” Foucault Studies 24 (2018): 151–84.    


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    Ann J. Cahill and Christine Hamel


    Response to Joshua St. Pierre

    We are deeply grateful to Joshua St. Pierre for his response, particularly because it affirms for us the connections between his groundbreaking work and our own analysis, connections that we identified very early on in our thinking. In our reply to his contribution, we want to speak to two themes in particular: temporality and shame.

    St. Pierre offers a crucial new line of thinking with his term “respiratory governance”—a pithy term that captures the technologies, institutions, and relationships that can be brought to bear to discipline the non-normative breathing subject into more normative breathing practices, and thus into more normative subjectivities. We are struck by the role that temporality plays in these ableist practices, and more specifically, in the value placed on the lived experience of temporality of speakers and breathers who benefit from the privileges endowed upon the abled. The cruel disciplines described by St. Pierre and Peers that aim to “mold me into a kind of person who used slow and easy breathing to achieve fluent (i.e. acceptable) communication,” it seems to us, were designed to protect the right of the privileged not to tarry

    In our book, relying on the work of George Yancy and Alia Al-Saji, we emphasize the ethical importance, for members of privileged social groups, of tarrying, particularly in the moment where aesthetic or ethical meanings are being ascribed to vocalizations of members of marginalized social groups. In our work, tarrying is tied closely to the inescapable responsibility that is involved when human soundedness gains social and political meaning; slow down, we advise privileged folks, to try to gain a sense for how your listening practices are contributing to what these sounds mean for you.

    But St. Pierre is calling us to recognize that ableist speaking norms render waiting for sound itself an affront to the privileged. Obviously, such waiting is particularly objectionable in the context of late capitalism, where immediate access to goods of all sorts (material goods, information) is viewed as a birthright of the privileged. To be forced to wait is to be degraded and dehumanized, and can incite fury: don’t you know who I am? Or: this better be worth the wait.

    Temporally non-normative vocalizations, particularly those emanating from speakers who have rejected vocal disciplines due to their high existential cost (shame, self-blame), reveal that vocal interactions require a shared (although not necessarily symmetrical) loaning of the participants’ time. To have a vocal interaction with another person that is meaningfully interactive (harangues and monologues don’t count) requires that all involved accept that their time is not their own. If the metaphor of loaning seems too transactional and individualistic, perhaps it’s better to say that vocal interactions necessarily require the co-construction of temporal experience. The privileged tendency to see time as “mine,” such that the speaker who requires greater amounts of time to communicate the same words is insulting the privileged person by being overly demanding, is yet another facet of vocal injustice grounded in insufficiently relational models of the self and social relations.

    Of course, neither vocal justice nor vocal generosity requires that all speakers be free to dictate to those receiving their vocalizations how long they will hold the floor. Once again, the practical nature of non-ideal theory is helpful here. Recognizing that the additional time required for a temporally non-normative speaker to participate in a vocal exchange is not only not an affront, but in fact an opportunity to gain important insight into the temporality of intervocality, is perfectly consistent with finding ways to resist the sonorous domination of the privileged, for whom taking up a disproportionate amount of airtime feels both natural and right. In terms of adopting practices that forward sonorous and vocal flourishing, and challenge practices of vocalizing and listening that perpetuate familiar (and some not so familiar) structures of inequality, interrupting the privileged and extending one’s role as listener beyond what feels natural in the company of a person who has been targeted by vocal injustice are crucial and mutually consistent strategies.

    Let us now turn to our second theme: shame. Though there is an emphasis in Sounding Bodies on the mechanics of vocal policing as a persistent example of vocal injustice, St. Pierre’s response brings into focus the role that vocal shame has to play in the mechanics of the treatment of pathology and what is commonly taken up the “inevitable injustice” that clings to it. Shame is only mentioned a few of times in our book—always only in relationship to sexuality—though it is deeply worthy of attention as an inwardly directed emotional response to the feeling of powerlessness to live up to a perceived vocal (normative or ableist) ideal and the inevitable sense of being disconnected or out of relationship with others. When taken up through the lens of intervocality, the burden of shame falls upon the collective: the shared responsibility for one another’s voices and the necessity to understand the discomfort of shame not simply as a by-product of an mechanical vocal issue to be pathologized and then remedied, but as a discomfort that emerges out of being—as Hamel refers to in her single-authored chapter from Sounding Bodies—“somatically othered.” For St. Pierre—who describes hearing and hating his own stuttering voice—this somatic othering through the voice is a result of hearing the shameful mark of injustice in his vocal utterances. However, he also extends this experience to the feeling of shame associated with breath itself, and the onus to try to discipline breath into smooth control. Hamel refers also to the exhortations to access a fairly regular, moment-to-moment natural breathing rhythm, let alone an easy, pleasurable, and deeply felt sigh of relief commonly experienced in voice training as only masquerading as neutral and universal; in fact, they fail to recognize how different (racialized, classed, gendered) bodies can have radically different, and unequal, access to spaces that allow for free and easy breath, and “relaxation” in many settings is a privilege for many and not necessarily accessible to all on a moment’s notice. St. Pierre’s analysis demonstrates the role that ableism is specifically playing in the normalization of smooth, rhythmic breathing through disciplinary control. The disruptive fits and starts of the ill-at-ease and/or disabled produces an untenable dissonance for ableist cultures, even as they reveal breath as a target of sonic normalization.

    St. Pierre also brings to the fore the particular shame that resides in “medical interdependency”—the alienating and dehumanizing dynamic of “expert” vs. “gimp.” In a beautiful anecdote about Danielle Peers and Lindsay Eales’ artistic response to respiratory interdependence—a crip dance performance—St. Pierre brings our attention to new possibilities for relationship through “radical, collaborative care.” The performance takes the form of a collective breathing sculpture, in which movers and audience alike fuse in a “breathing assemblage,” allowing the movement of breath and the oxygenation of moving muscles to highlight the deeply intersubjective aspects of shared air and collective care. Performers and audience “are moved” into new relationship across the borders of “fourth walls” and “prosceniums” by sharing air together, and perhaps even falling into a synchronization of breath and heartbeat not unlike the communal pushing that can occur in the context of childbirth, as we describe in chapter five of Sounding Bodies

    Why is performance so well-suited to instantiate this possibility for shared air and collective care? Perhaps because it too has a strained and potent relationship to temporality. Live performance binds the audience and the performers together in a singular moment, even as it has the capacity to stretch, bend, and slow down the temporality of normal life. A performance that is all movement and/of breath, and that revels in the absence of words, exceeds and challenges normalized communication that privileges the smooth and efficacious flow/exchange of language and transactional verbal economy.

    In offering us this image, St. Pierre creates the possibility of an alternative narrative of what the ethos of care might look like beyond the historical practices (and shaming effects) of respiratory governance. A politics of breath that is more just and inclusive will require new experiences of temporality and, relatedly, a transfer of shame from non-normative bodies to the structural injustices that seek to pathologize and marginalize them.


Antonio Ocampo-Guzman


Disoriented On the Rackety Bridge

It is in the attempt to walk (and live) on the rackety bridge between self and other —and not on the attempt to arrive at one side or another—that we discover real hope.

Jill Dolan

I have been unstable on my feet ever since the first publication of the adaptation I did of Kristin Linklater’s Freeing the Natural Voice into Spanish in 2010. My own personal experience as an actor trained in this methodology and as a teacher trained by Linklater has been played out in the disorienting arena of my two languages. I have attempted to reflect on my bilingual experience on several occasions—papers, essays, and many conversations—yet nothing had prepared me for the profound complications that reading Sounding Bodies has presented. What follows is another attempt at using the written words of my second language to either hold on to the rackety bridge, or to simply fall in the turbulent waters below.

This was a very difficult book to read, and a very important one. The difficulty laid not so much in the academic language embedded in it, but more in the deep examination of a pedagogy that I have subscribed to for the last thirty years and on which I have built my professional life. However, I have had deep respect and admiration for Christine Hamel for years and have cherished the many conversations we have had about voice and acting pedagogy. I am grateful for the opportunity to reconsider the very foundations of Freeing the Natural Voice, though I must say that doing this in the aftermath of Linklater’s death is even more complex.

These last two years have been dramatic indeed for those of us in this profession, and this book could not have been timelier, however disconcerting it is. The COVID-19 pandemic and the social and racial justice reckoning that impacts both the professional and academic theatres must call us to reconsider the very purpose of training voices and the methods and pedagogies we subscribe to accomplish that purpose. 

Cahill and Hamel’s “tracing of the evolution of voice training from the exclusionary approaches of the mid-twentieth century to the neutrality approaches giving way again to the multicultural and culturally sensitive approaches” (134) has been extremely helpful. Much makes sense to me when I consider Linklater’s work as part of the ‘natural/free’ approaches to voice training perspective borne out of the 1960s because it also includes most of the theatre training that I have received in Colombia, England, Canada, and the United States. It also resonates with the spirit of “liberation theology” and Paulo Freire’s “Education towards Freedom” both of which have had direct influence on how I view my work and my life.

I remember talking with Kristin about her own immigrant journey into the US—she arrived in New York City in November 1963, a few weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy. She took full advantage of all that was available in NYC in that decade—from psychotherapy to somatic-based therapies, the Alexander Technique—she even taught workshops along Moshe Feldenkrais—to women’s liberation and the sexual revolution. A few years later, Kristin and several other founding members of Shakespeare & Company participated in what was then called the EST Training. Many of the training exercises that I learned through Kristin and at Shakespeare & Company have that same basic purpose: to bring the “Self” into full action in our breath, in our voice, in our presence and in our playing on the stage. 

However, Cahill and Hamel rightly call me to reconsider much of that pedagogy when they write we must become “increasingly conscious of the ways in which we might unwittingly perpetuate oppressions and privilege dominant norms of experience in the name of “empowering voices” (155). I must agree that some of those methodologies need to be stopped because it can be damaging to our students; at the very least, they can be inappropriately invasive of a student’s private life. They can certainly be extremely manipulative. 

After reading Sounding Bodies, I need to consider how I present myself in the room as the teacher with years of disciplinary experience while at the same time respecting each student’s experience in their bodies and in their lives. Most of my work has been centered on teaching theatre in academic institutions, which pose a complicated paradox: I am deemed the expert in the field which the university has contracted to deliver the course; the student is paying the university for that course and assumes that I know better. However, this transactional structure does not fit in well with the desire to establish a more relational interaction with the student and their study of their voice. Many of us have been, if not damaged, then at least hurt by egocentric teachers that insist that they know better and meddle into our private emotional lives in predatory ways, in the name of seeking an “authentic breakthrough.” I believe Kristin struggled with this and most of the time her deep sense of humanity found a best way forward. But not always. I have certainly struggled with it myself as a teacher, and I am now attempting to recalibrate my teaching into a place of allowing the student to have their own experience without too much meddling. In so doing, I aspire to heed Cahill and Hamel’s call “to deliver the wisdom of pragmatism over to a deeper understanding of the latest traditions and ideological assumptions baked into our practices” as an ethical mandate (133).

Cahill and Hamel’s invite us to consider “a new model of liberation which frees the self (and voice) from unhelpful or unwanted identity scripts no longer looks like finding the “natural/real” self, but is instead an embracing of one’s identify (and identity per se) as constructed so that one may take a more active role in its production” (143). These are some of the ways in which I’m currently adjusting in the studio: first, I’m being mindful of the use of the word ‘relaxation’ which may be very helpful for some and yet, might be extremely unhelpful to others. I am quickly learning about trauma-informed pedagogy and understanding that helping a student to bring awareness and recognition might be more respectful as well as useful. As Hamel writes, “Awareness and recognition are more fundamental to relaxation that the pointed directive of ‘letting go’ or ‘allowing release itself’” (150). Secondly, I am more careful with the invitation to ‘close your eyes’ which again may be triggering to some, and exclusionary for other students in the studio. Lastly, I am not using any prescribed gender specific pitches on the piano to invite students to explore resonance and rather, guiding the students through as much range as they are able and willing to explore. I would welcome an opportunity to witness Hamel teaching in her studio, and witnessing how she resolves these issues in a practical way.

These are a few examples of my attempt to grapple with the notion of ‘freeing the natural’ voice. For many years I have used that term without examination, and certainly with a clear sense that it referred to the voice prior to socialization. Cahill and Hamel question this in a profound way writing that “social forces don’t act on authentic selves as much as they create the conditions of possibility under which selves emerge in their particularity” (47). I need to study the theoretical frameworks presented in Sounding Bodies much more deeply to achieve a clearer understanding of what Cahill and Hamel are proposing in terms of ‘intervocality’ and ‘vocal justice.’ Suffice to say that letting go of the central concept of Linklater’s pedagogy is terrifying and disturbing. Nonetheless, I understand that it must be questioned bravely for it to keep evolving. I’m sure that Kristin would have welcomed this exchanged and met it with the same aplomb that characterized her life.

One aspect that has worked well for me over the years has been the teaching of voice in my second language in the United States. As such, I do not have any need to impose my own voice or my own speech as the model to aspire to. That has also been true in the experiences that I have had teaching in Mexico and in Spain: I of course “sound” Colombian to the Mexican and Spanish students. And “Colombian” isn’t accurate anyway—perhaps “Bogotano” is more appropriate. However, my own journey in adapting Linklater into Spanish brought me back to reading Freire and framing my own experience around the juxtaposition of education towards freedom and education towards obedience. The paradox is that, although Linklater might appear to have been the product of education towards freedom, the way that many folx have been teaching it reflected more an education towards obedience.

Regardless of the language, the central question that I struggle with is “what is this training for?” The professional theatre in the US, and I imagine in other places as well, is such a complicated arena. It exacerbates structures that are oppressive, unjust, and inequitable. Do we fix that first, or do we fix the training of actors first? For many years, I have questioned if I was training actors to find professional work, and execute that work, or to fulfill their biggest artistic potential? Of course, I wish that Hamel and Cahill offered more definitive answers, but I know that this is not possible. I am grateful though for the encouragement to consider “an emerging anti-oppression approach to voice acknowledging the presence of systemic, cultural and institutional barriers and inequalities based on race, gender and other socially constructed identity markers” (134).

Sounding Bodies also points out a frequent disconnect between practice and research, as I understand it as the critical examination and reflection that generates new knowledge. I am part of a group of voice teachers that finds most alignment with a sense of being an ‘artistic practitioner’ and most satisfaction in the experience of being in the studio with the students. On the other hand, there are others invested in a more intellectual understanding. However, I’m beginning to see the possibility of true collaboration and synergy in creative practice research, or in critical creative practice that includes vocal pedagogies. It is my hope as incoming President of the Voice & Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) to center these collaborations, both in our annual conferences, and in our outstanding Voice & Speech Review. As Cahill and Hamel have demonstrated, there is much to gain by this examination.

In conclusion, I will remain on the rackety bridge a while longer and continue to participate in the discourse. It is important to keep examining the full impact of voice in the world—the ethical and philosophical implications and considerations of what we do. Only then may the bridge stabilize itself.

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    Ann J. Cahill and Christine Hamel


    Response to Antonio Ocampo-Guzman: Gesturing Toward a Radical, Engaged Pedagogy of Voice

    In his response, Antonio Ocampo-Guzman describes being shaken on a foundational, root level at the critical analysis of Linklater’s “freeing the natural voice” pedagogy we provide in Sounding Bodies. Like Ocampo-Guzman, co-author Hamel is a designated Linklater voice teacher who gravitated towards and embraced Linklater’s methodology for its own “radical” approach to voice: “at its roots” it embraced voice as an important feature of self, as a pathway towards more creative possibilities, and as a means to find personal, artistic, even political freedom. Ocampo-Guzman articulates a central tension in the pedagogical frame around the work: “although Linklater might appear to have been the product of education towards freedom” the culture of its teaching has veered towards an “education towards obedience.” This has led to an incredibly challenging paradox pedagogically, indeed a “rackety bridge”: exacting, hierarchical, and perfectionist on one side and ever-questioning, probing, even transgressive on the other. It is not altogether surprising that Linklater once spoke of as a child wanting to grow up to be either a policewoman or a missionary (discipline and order on one side, a “liberation theology” on the other); as she said, “it turned out she got to do both.” (Bridel 2019, 1:22:58).

    In a 2021 panel discussion within the Linklater community, Daron Oram offered a venn diagram of the intersecting systems of influence on our practice: methodology, philosophy, and pedagogy. Principally, what teachers of the LVM (Linklater Voice Method, as it is now called) have undergone is a highly rigorous training in methodology: learning and embodying the exercises, understanding why they exist and flow in a certain way, and how to bring others to have an experience with and through them. The focus of our work in Sounding Bodies has been primarily on understanding the philosophical implications of the sounding human voice; toward that end, we discussed the philosophical traditions framing the approach to LVM, namely that of liberal humanism grounded in the Enlightenment principles of self-contained, autonomous, free human subject. 

    This written response to Ocampo-Guzman occurs at the overlap of philosophy and pedagogy: the third intersecting circle, in which we are tasked with becoming conscious of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we may be going in voice (and actor) education as a discipline. Oram also broke this down into three pedagogical “buckets”: traditional pedagogy (the “banking model” of education that Paulo Freire is concerned with—the teacher filling the empty vessel of the student with their knowledge); constructivist pedagogy (where the teacher leads the student to have an experience so that they can discover knowledge as if for themselves); and critical pedagogy (where the means by which the educational process takes place consciously challenges and subverts its own power structures and centers the students’ pursuit of their own freedom). 

    All three pedagogical orientations have been present in the teaching of Linklater’s work and the LVM teacher-training process. Ocampo-Guzman implies a traditional model which centers the teacher as expert and a learning-through-obedience; Oram suggested that Linklater teacher training methods employ a constructivist mode (teaching to lead a student to arrive, more or less, at the desired experience and/or conclusion), and author Hamel would suggest there was also a critical orientation to the work of teacher training wherein trainees are tasked with questioning, inventing, and resisting all-too-easy jargon so that ideas or language could not calcify or sediment the method and lose their power to activate vocal shifts Linklater insisted that the use of language was intentional and powerful, meant to awaken thought and experiences to be discovered and re-discovered anew. 

    Ocampo-Guzman also rightly identifies the aspects of LVM which seem to be deeply aligned with Freire’s philosophy of freedom, in which strongly opposing forces meet at the site of education as struggle; oppressive forces (from without, then internalized within) that can be identified as both unconscious and conscious, so that the person can push against the effects of such social and political forces and progress towards an increasingly free state. Freire’s notion of freedom centers a dominant Enlightenment ideology, wherein power is seen as being exerted from above on the autonomous, sovereign individual. However, the passages of Sounding Bodies that have particularly stirred Ocampo-Guzman into disorientation and curiosity are those which are grounded in Foucault’s theory of power and introduce a different paradigm. Freire’s critical pedagogy “demands that learners discover their authentic voice, their historic destiny of emancipation” (Clemitshaw, 274). However,

    The[se prescriptions] do not acknowledge the more nuanced and deeply inserted play of power in the institution and in the bodies of its inhabitants. The structures of power, seen in a Foucauldian sense, become less systematic, and more contingent and improvised. They become less externally oppressive and more internally embodied, integrated and constructive … Voices do not have a sovereign centre where freedom is a natural, but denied state, with the need to be liberated…

    Whilst power is a central focus of analysis for Foucault, it is not conceived of as oppositional to the individual, but rather as necessary for the construction of individuals, less opposite to freedom, but rather the pre-requisite of the construction of regulated freedoms … Voices do not have an authenticity free of power, but rather are only brought into varied forms through power. (Clemitshaw 2013, 274)

    In our Foucauldian analysis, we challenge the notion of the subject free from the influences of institutional and state power, but leave space for freedom in which power is recognized as instrumental in how we come to be human subjects. It’s everywhere, and shapes individuals, capacities, and self-image. We do not take it as a given that the accrued experiences of socialization—especially those that construct values, build capacities, and help to develop identity, culture, and belonging—will necessarily lead to dissonance, silence, or dehumanization in its many forms. Though institutional and cultural practices certainly have the potential to enact oppression and do harm, it is also through the historicity and even illogic of those structures that we can reframe experience, interrupt the contingencies of power, question, take a stand, and enact justice on a personal and political level. We are curious about the possibilities of a Foucauldian framework for an engaged, progressive pedagogy of voice and/or actor training might look like, in which self-awareness, self-care, and self-construction as well as disobedience, interruption, and resistance continue to be central to the work. The model of freeing the voice from the oppressive aspects of power does not seem wholly sufficient to this task. We at least need to augment this model with a recognition of the productive aspects of power in the voice as well, and in doing so move from the goal of vocal freedom to the goal of intentional activation of the voice. From a stance of vigilant skepticism, a view on power—how it flows, who has it, how it is exchanged, in the classroom itself, most cruciallycan become the means whereby voice training can find new footing. Just as we are not particularly interested in any conversation about voice that doesn’t involve a conversation about selves and vocal identity (reducing a pedagogy of voice/speech to a mere skills-as-skills and fact-based understanding of voice-as-acoustics or sound will not save us, though we will to return to a discussion of the acquisition of voice-skills that are also “self-skills” shortly), we are not interested in talking about a pedagogy of voice without taking into account the complexities of power which confront (and comprise) the experience of the complex, intersectional, becoming self in the voice classroom.

    And so, as one very small example, there is an early exercise in LVM which asks the student to picture “what is preventing my voice as it is now from being the voice I would like it to be” as a front-line of struggle to identify emotional, physical, and mental blocks that are points where external or internalized forces have limited one’s vocal power and freedom. Thought Hamel continues to use this exercise, she has been doing so alongside the development of a “voice story” or “voice collage” (such as Rena Cook’s’ “voice house” [Cook, 2012] that allows the voice student to identify and name the productive influences, desires, people, places, and things that have shaped their voice(s) in important self-affirming ways as well. Naming the influences that have—for better or worse—“shaped who I am” vocally can allow a student to reckon with their emerging desires and where they want to go from here: which practices they want to preserve, affirm, or try, beyond putting single-point focus on the obstructive “what is in my way?” This redirects the conversation away from the binary “habitual vs. natural” patterning, or the overly simple emphasis on that which obstructs their legibility or clarity in relationship with a particular sort of audience. As Ocampo-Guzman points out, this indeed demands further clarity on the question of what are we training for: an industry as it currently exists with its demands on certain kinds of legibility, or one that can be intentionally transformed by affirming the full humanity of those who are currently training in its practices? Perhaps it’s possible to do both: wholly lifting up artists in their highly particular and nuanced “becoming” alongside further information about what expectations they might encounter in the industry as it currently exists.

    For these practices to open up, we must look at how our methodology and pedagogy are in conversation with philosophy: how we conceptualize the voice can change how we engage with our classroom practices. To that end, it will be useful to think of voice itself as a developmental capability and a skill that is forged: not a skill in the sense of “the professional skill of voice production”—which has the potential to alienate, treating the voice as merely instrumental, mechanical, as wholly separate from a sense of self—but a human capacity that is developed according to social relationship. Voicing capability doesn’t happen alone (we don’t just “have a voice”, we learn to do voice, with and according to others), and making human sound is one way that we are rendered capable of connection, of getting needs met, of being in relationship. So, yes, a “skill,” but a skill that has a role to play in bringing ourselves more fully into being. It is a social accomplishment every step of the way—crying, grunting, laughing, “raspberries”, babbling, “a-goo,” and of course, speaking—and becomes more and more specifically deployed and responsive over time. To conceive of the voice as a capacity that is constantly in a state of development upends the narrative of voice that it must be rescued from necessarily pernicious influences of social power. 

    And even though Linklater was ultimately clear that this process for her was not one in which one would ever fully “de-socialize” (the choice to speak/sound on free primary impulses must be conscious: the freedom lies in the choice itself ), the process of “re-socializing” the voice she describes (Bridel 2019) is still one that relies heavily on the assumption that one can choose only to recover a freedom that has been lost. In contrast, by connecting the skill of voice to the tools of self-construction, play, and invention, we allow more and more choice, creativity, and pleasure in the matter of its activation, while also undermining a dominant model of the most authentic self as pre-social, pre-political, and ideally self-defined. 

    Micha Espinosa discusses the activity of developing a positive “vocal aesthetic”: 

    The voice teachers all agreed on the benefits of a clear tone and a healthy instrument. But one of the voice teachers, a non-native English speaker, liked a voice with a little dirt in it. A voice that sounded like it had life. Maybe that life was hard? Maybe that voice had imperfections? (Espinosa, 2011)

    The “dirt” in the voice here (the sound that reflects the stuff of our lives, even its injustices) is a way of resisting erasure, and also performs a resistance to closure that Foucault’s work also suggests. There is no simple “freedom” or “liberation” here in a universal sense, just the particularities of a voice in its complex becoming.

    The ability to respond to the ongoing question—“what does freedom feel like for me? What is my emerging vocal aesthetic?” ensures a permanent stance of skepticism that continually opens up frontiers of knowledge about the methods we employ. It demands that we ask, “what if freedom could also look like this? and “Is a universal conceptualization of freedom yet another way to send certain voices into hiding?” As Ocampo-Guzman stated at the aforementioned panel, international and cross-cultural conceptualizations of personal freedom vary widely and carry with it wildly differing political and social aims, projects, and hazards. A persistent stance of skepticism can continually challenge an overly simple binary: free/socialized, natural/habitual, open/closed, presence/absence. And perhaps seemingly simple classroom revelations such as “now your jaw just freed up” can be made more appropriately complex by asking “but was there an unspoken expectation of vulnerability in the room?” Did that energetic release of voice happen but under emotional duress or pressure to “have a breakthrough” that may have momentary benefits but compromised the student’s overall sense of agency? Was that tangible vocal shift happening in the ballpark of a vocal gift freely given? 

    There is so much more to be explored here about the contingency of consent, personal agency in the voice classroom, and the empowerment of boundary practice techniques (such as those developed by Theatrical Intimacy Education’s frameworks), that falls beyond the purview of this response. However, we believe that these questions must remain central to a radical, engaged training pedagogy. As one of the founders of critical pedagogy, Henry Giroux rightly points out, “it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power” (Giroux 2020, 81). Theatrical voice training will always be implicated in power and cultural politics, and as such, can be reframed as a way to actively construct “representations of ourselves and others, and our … environment” (81) in each moment, as classroom practice: these representations are at the very heart of the matter for future theater-makers and the gifts they might choose to give.


    Bridel, David. Spotlight@SDA, “Kristin Linklater in Conversation with David Bridel and Natsuko Ohama.” Video, 2019). USC School of Dramatic Arts.

    Clemitshaw, Gary. “Critical Pedagogy as Educational Resistance: a post-structuralist reflection.” Power and Education 5:3 (2013) 268–79. 

    Cook, Rena. Voice and the Young Actor. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. 

    Espinosa, Micha. “A Call to Action: Embracing the Cultural Voice or Taming the Wild Tongue.” Voice and Speech Review, 7:1 (2011) 75–86. 

    Giroux, Henry. On Critical Pedagogy. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.


Jack Leff


Megaphones and Microphones

Sounds circulate. In their movement between and betwixt bodies they pick up meaning. This deceptively simple starting ground for Sounding Bodies: Identity, Injustice, and the Voice (2022) allows Cahill and Hamel to weave a complex picture of the social dimensions to sound. Gender, race, and ability are the three domains they focus on to build a robust ethics of sound and voice, but the aim is not to be exhaustive but rather generative. Tools such as intervocality, their term for the ways relations are built through shared soundscapes, prove to be highly effective for understanding the acoustic politics of everything from Brett Kavanaugh’s chauvinist job application to how we can cultivate more ethical vocal instructors. Complementary to, rather than competitive against, other feminist theories of relationality, intervocality centers the shared soundscapes we find ourselves in and imbues us with a collective responsibility to maintain the atmospheres that enable soundscapes. I’d like to note that the presence of the authors is felt throughout their work. The choice to co-author the book embeds a collaborative spirit into the text, extending and demonstrating the critical tools they present to the audience at the level of composition. It is a first step towards embodying an ethics of the choir, turning what is typically viewed as an individual burden into a collective responsibility for holding the note.

What I’m suggesting, and what I think the book suggests, is that vocal acts do more than form the background of our political worlds, the context for action. Instead, they are affective in particular ways that warrant attention, and the vocality of the response (or the hanging silence of a lack of response) takes on social meaning in relation to the voice. Given the timeliness of the book, it is difficult not to read it with Donald Trump’s voice playing in the back of my head.1 Not just his words—such as the explicit endorsement of fascism within “fine people on both sides” or the emboldening of white nationalist groups with “stand back and stand by”—but specifically the amplification of his words through social media and the news’ obsession with detailing his many lies. 

While the authors explicitly point to and unpack Trump’s patriarchal use of vocality, less attention is paid to the technology that mediates his sonic violence towards the public. Left implicit in their analysis is a question of technology and scale as they note that sounds and voices are never pregiven or unmediated events. So, technologies amplify, mediate, or repress voices and in so doing play a crucial role in the feminist sonic politics of our contemporary moment. While they do have a brief but fascinating discussion of Zoom as a highly limited technological platform for voice, I’d like to put forward some preliminary thoughts on two other sonic technologies: the megaphone and the microphone. It’s my hope that the authors find this analysis fruitful around the questions of technological intervention into sound, scale of voice, and power.

Here, I use the megaphone and the microphone broadly as both material technologies and symbolic loci for sound, although I recognize the line between those two things is blurred. As a political organizer, I associate the megaphone with protest. It’s the mobile, distorting, somehow-always-out-of-batteries amplifier for anger at injustices. Cheap enough that it’s accessible to most organizations, yet effective at orienting a crowd of people, we see megaphones in the hands of activists and on zines, pins, flags, and all other manner of activist paraphernalia to signal the voice of the people. Given how widespread megaphones are, it should not surprise us that the police crackdown on their use at protests and challenge the protestor’s use of them as a symbol for justice by asserting that they are a symbol for unruliness (read: racial discontent). This struggle over megaphones comes to a head when the police cite organizers for unauthorized amplified sound—quite literally criminalizing the fact that someone is expressing anger at injustice too loudly. What we see in this example is a contested soundscape where social movements strategically deploy the sonic technology of megaphones, considering when and where to risk arrest in order to amplify their voice. 

The necessity of deploying sound strategically to avoid a violent listening ear parallels the discussion of racial “code-switching” and gendered speech patterns that are detailed in the book. Of course, protest, race, and gender are intersecting topics, and the technological limitations of the megaphone here plays an interesting role. For instance, megaphones have a powerful distortive element. This is mostly a limitation of the electronics, a compromise for the portability and affordability of an amplification device. However, it also raises considerations for a politics of concealment. Distortion makes it difficult to hear who is speaking in the sense that the noise coming out of the megaphone rarely sounds anything like the organizer’s speaking voice. The unintended benefit of this distortion is that it makes identifying the organizers more challenging, with recordings rarely matching up to an actual person. In other words, it is a small example of what Tricia Rose calls “going into the red,” where the sonic performance overloads the circuity of state violence as a way of resisting it.2 Activists quite literally hijack the unintended limitations of the technological platform to crank up the sound so much that it becomes indecipherable to some of the State’s listening ear. As a result, the megaphone functions as both a material and symbolic assertion of democratic rights, holding space for a breadth of people and in so doing carve out breathing room for insurgent possibilities.

In contrast, the microphone carries a veneer of authority and respectability. It is the hallmark technology of press conferences given by police chiefs as they try to cover up violence, the weapon of choice for anti-democratic politicians, and the platform for transphobic/racist/sexist pundits who decry being canceled while loudly using the technology to speak over their critics. While this is a reductive simplification, comparatively speaking microphones are a relatively expensive, unwieldy technology requiring external speakers for amplification. Far from being a limitation, its unwieldy nature is part of what makes it an effective symbol of status. This is not always the case, as many public figures have utilized their technological platforms to fight injustice, but the point is that microphones allow people in power to sidestep the question of whether celebrities, the wealthy, or the elite should have the loudest voice in the first place. In other words, we have not confronted a fundamental question of the ethics of voice at scale.  

Where the megaphone is relatively localized, an aid for managing crowds but ultimately drowned out by the call and response of the chanting crowd, the microphone allows an individual to dominate the conversation. Consider the discourse surrounding the police, how many people does it take showing up to a protest to drown out the discursive effect of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Kamala Harris, or Joe Biden’s law and order rhetoric? The microphone concentrates power by ensuring that the speeches of politicians get recorded, propagated, played over nightly news, typed up into newspapers, and entered into the mainstream. By contrast, protests against police injustice have a much higher bar to clear to reach even a fraction of that volume, despite being a far more democratic form of civic engagement. The microphone thus serves as both a material and symbolic form of vocal power at scale, dominating the airwaves and sucking up the oxygen in the room.

As a result, scale complicates ethical discussions of violence against people who hold power. The scale of politician’s authority means that any discussion of their individual mistreatment runs the risk of concealing deeper issues with questions of power. It is still important to highlight abuses towards people in power as they’re still worthy of moral consideration and further represent injustices against broader populations, but this ethical consideration has to contextualize the scale at which they operate.

For example, twice in the book the authors reference the dismissive patriarchal politics applied to Hillary Clinton’s voice. As a public figure, Clinton stands in for (white) women who aspire to powerful office, and the authors rightfully argue that the sexism directed towards her sonic embodiment through claims that she’s “shrill” and other sexist canards is a clear sign that women are not welcome in the patriarchal space of electoral politics. However, the ethics of Clinton’s voice is more complicated than simply pointing to how the listening ear frames it. We also must be attuned to how she’s used her voice as Secretary of State to support imperialist wars as well as recognize her history of silencing other women, including Bill Clinton’s accusers of sexual assault. These harms are not incidental to the vocal politics of Hilary Clinton, but rather emblematic of a particular strategy used by people in power who have the mic. On the one hand, it is important to recognize the sexist treatment that Clinton has weathered in the media as she took the mic; however, without a more in-depth account of Clinton as a major public figure, giving her the microphone when it comes to the legitimate critiques of sexism against her runs the risk of concealing other acts of violence. In other words, the microphone, even when amplifying fair critiques, can still function as a silencing technology where one perspective is boosted at the cost of others by virtue of the scale of the technology. I want to stress that the authors’ framework is sympathetic to how this critique complicates the ethics of Clinton’s situation, in essence it demonstrates that a vocal ethic has to be multidimensional and fluid. As they argue, it must grapple with all of the complexities that the voice as a socially situated phenomenon brings to the table.

Being multidimension also means not holding the microphone as some kind of ontologically anti-democratic technology. Following Frantz Fanon’s discussion of the radio in Algeria,3 I believe that all technologies, no matter how violent, can be struggled over and repurposed for resistance. We should not concede the ability to co-opt technologies to the state, after all. However, this incomplete example affords an opportunity to rethink what the technology can do to facilitate democratic engagement and further interrogate how factors like scale play into vocal ethics. Here, the authors give us a gift when they touch on the use of microphones at conferences. Following critiques from disability scholars, they point out that the refusal to take the mic from conference presenters is an exclusionary move. It fundamentally makes the talk less accessible when people refuse the technology outright. Instead of eschewing microphones all together, what I’m proposing with this preliminary, clumsy analysis is that a vocal ethics can get us to start thinking about scale mediating power. It asks us to imagine what it would be like to take the mic from politician’s hands and give it back to smaller scale groups for more ethical uses like accessibility. Or, we can take a lesson from social movements by examining the “human microphone” strategy. This is a tactic where an organizer shouts a phrase, and a crowd will mimic that shout. It amplifies a voice and distributes it, creating a shared sense of purpose and practicing the value of community. In essence, it inverts the hierarchical logic of the elite microphone and uses amplification at a smaller scale to facilitate democratic engagement. Perhaps what we need are fewer microphones and more human microphones, fewer elite individuals holding power and more collective voices. Thankfully, Sounding Bodies moves the needle in this direction and is a triumph.

  1. Spare a thought for my psyche that this was the soundtrack playing in the background.

  2. Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Music/Culture (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994).

  3. Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier, Nachdr. (New York, NY: Grove Press, 1965).

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    Ann J. Cahill and Christine Hamel


    Response to Jack Leff

    Jack Leff is correct to bring our attention to the matter of technology, and how various technologies interact with human vocalizations, always in the context of interlocking systems of political meaning and social inequality. As part of our response to his essay, we would like to continue his generative analysis of the politics of the megaphone and microphone, as sites and mechanisms of both vocal injustice and potential resistance to such injustice. Leff is careful to point out that these political meanings associated with various technologies, including the megaphone and the microphone, are not necessary associations. Obviously, megaphones can be used for oppressive purposes, and microphones can be used to forward various forms of justice and flourishing. And so before we do a deeper dive into the use of these two technologies in the examples of specifically political discourse used in Leff’s response (protests, speeches by elected officials, campaign events, etc.), we first want to trouble in more detail the association of megaphones with political resistance and microphones with state power. We then conclude our response with a consideration of Leff’s concern that identifying a figure such as Hilary Clinton as a target of vocal injustice risks masking the harms she imposed as a powerful political figure. 

    Perhaps most obviously, rallies and speeches of all political stripes (Pride, March for Our Lives, BLM March on Washington), rely heavily on the mic (and, gesturally, perhaps even “the mic drop”). The microphone in these cases require a platform, prestige, and positional power, but does not necessarily imply “transphobic/racist/sexist pundits,” and the power that they invoke and deploy is often explicitly framed as counter to state or cultural power. Such framing, of course, needs to be examined critically, as it can all too easily be accompanied by an articulation of the right to oppress others. That is, some political movements are calls for greater degrees of oppression by the state, or even an overthrowing of the current state apparatus in favor of one that is more oppressive.

    In fact, recent events have provided an example of the use of the megaphone in precisely such a political context. The “Bullhorn Lady” during the January 6th assault on the Capitol was apparently providing the rioters critical information about where to go once they had breached the building. As we will discuss in more detail below, the very use of the megaphone made identifying the “Bullhorn Lady” more challenging, although once the video was distributed widely, social media users were able to do so effectively. The point here is that the megaphone was here used as a form of insurrection and violent protest that, while ostensibly critical of the current state, actually was in favor of an intensification of state power against certain social groups. 

    Moreover, raising the question of the politics of technologies of sound does not, we hold, support the claim that the microphone is indeed an elite instrument in 2022: 85 percent of Americans own a smartphone and therefore a way to record (and virtually amplify) sounds on the internet, social media, and so on. Such capacities are arguably far more present and influential than the use of the microphone in the context of a particular gathered crowd. In some ways, the harkening to megaphones feels nostalgic, as if the gathering of crowds in person is more present or potent than the circulation of content online.

    Though not explicitly a site of political discourse, the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial (and result favoring Depp, over which Republicans are “doing backflips” [Bort 2022]) is politicized in the media backlash against the #MeToo movement. A courtroom microphone loomed in nearly every shot of the trial, and Amber Heard’s voice was captured and amplified significantly—her testimony was recorded, distributed, re-mixed, and mocked all over the internet, out of real time and often out of context. To speak to the issue of scale, “The audio of Heard testifying to her abuse at the trial in Fairvax, Virginia…is currently going viral on TikTok, with nearly 15,000 videos using the sound. Most disturbingly, the top videos under the sound—many of which have more than 10 million views—appear to be literal reenactments of the abuse Heard describes in her testimony” (Dickson 2022). Popular TikTok videos mock her vocality and emotionality as performative (and therefore untrustworthy) or substitute children’s gibberish with titles like “what I hear when Amber talks.” The point is, the microphone here becomes an easy agent for the scalability of misogyny, but not because it endows the speaker with political power or prestige: quite the opposite. The amplification into social media mainstream in this case repackages and reframes the audio track of a speaker’s words—picked up by a mic—in such a way to subvert the speaker or render their words suspicious, silly, dismissible, morally bankrupt, etc.

    The context of the public speech matters, and the way the mic is used matters (whether for amplification or recording, or both) and how that audio material is circulated matters. Similarly, how the accomplishments of the voice behind the megaphone—the building of energy, the call/response, the sending of a political message—live on depends upon how those voices are recorded, edited, and re-amplified. Surely, then, we want to distinguish and understand what it means to experience voices together (as choir) in contrast with experiencing them through the internet and social media/tion. I suspect that Leff had Trump’s voice on repeat in part at least because of media repetition of sound bytes after the fact rather than the amplification (via microphone) “in the original moment.” And what can be done to re-purpose technology for resistance online in the building up of or dismantling of cultural narratives? When our own bodies are vulnerable, present in spaces together, and/or at risk, how are the words we hear then landing on us, perhaps prompting us to a vocal response ourselves? How different than when we are hearing voices through earbuds, alone, looking at a smartphone, typing up a comment or inserting an emoji; and yet can this also be a site of resistance? 

    The Individual Voice And/In the Crowd

    Although we find value in challenging the too easy association of the megaphone with valuable political opposition and the microphone with the perpetuation of oppressive social and political structures, nevertheless the specific political sites whose sonorous elements Leff analyzes warrant further attention. Leff mentions that the megaphone, a familiar apparatus at many public protests, has a distortive quality that transforms, often beyond recognition, the sonorous quality of the speaker’s voice. This capacity, as Leff notes, renders the megaphone a transgressive vocal site, one that can, at least at times, push back against state forces, particularly those most directly related to incarceration, by rendering the speaker difficult to identify (the Bullhorn Lady is such an example, as we’ve mentioned). We seek to add to this compelling analysis by noting how the sound generated by megaphones is accompanied by certain visual effects generated by the shape, size, and placement of the megaphone, effects that not only shape the political meaning of the sounds being generated, but, as it turns out, provide further critique of Adriana Cavarero’s theory of vocal justice. 

    We argue in our book that vocalizations not only always take place in social and political contexts, but that the reception of such vocalizations is a multisensory affair. How and what we hear is profoundly shaped by how and what we are seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. Interestingly, the sonorous masking that megaphones accomplish is also accompanied by a partial visual masking: using a megaphone frequently hides significant portions of the speaker’s face from even nearby members of the crowd. And if the crowd is a large one (without the financial resources to provide projected videos of the events), many members of it are receiving the voice without an image of the face of the person who is speaking. The megaphone, then, often makes the speaker’s face, the body part most closely associated with personal identity.

    This is not to say, however, that the vocalization is received in the absence of any visual sense data at all—to the contrary, sighted members of the crowd may be hearing the voice amplified by the megaphone while viewing many, many other people, as well as the surrounding environment. Here, we’d like to focus on the other members of the crowd (although both built and found aspects of the environment are also playing important roles in the megaphone’s capacity to amplify well and clearly). Leff’s point has helped us to identify another way in which Cavarero’s privileging of the voice’s uniqueness—how well, if not perfectly, it can be used to identify individuals, a trait upon which she seeks to model a form of political engagement, as well as improved (and maybe not new) ways of philosophizing—is limited. 

    We critique Cavarero’s approach to vocal justice at some length in the book, and so will not reproduce those arguments here. We will add to them, however, by affirming Leff’s point that masking the identity of the megaphone user can be a crucial tool of political protest. Yet we think the megaphone does, or can do, even more than this. Although there are exceptions to this rule, the use of the megaphone in the context of public (usually outdoor) political protest is understood as not simply amplifying the individual opinion of the speaker. Members of a protest do not listen to the voice amplified by the megaphone to discover the individual or novel opinions of the speaker; instead (again, not universally, but frequently) the person wielding the megaphone has the responsibility of articulating the shared, collective critique and outrage that brought the group together in the first place (and so, seeing the face behind the megaphone is neither easy to do nor important). And so it is appropriate that the amplified voice should register sonically as a representative of a gathered social group. Or, perhaps even more powerfully, the megaphone is deployed not to reveal that which already exists as commonly held views, but to generate new, shared views. Whether it is a matter of representation or generation, what is needed, sometimes, when speaking truth to power, is a voice whose sonorous qualities do not emphasize uniqueness, but shared political positionalities—and demands. 

    The microphone, by contrast, is frequently (although, as we mentioned earlier, not exclusively) used in indoor contexts, and for the purposes of allowing an individual person’s vocalizations be shared with a group who, by and large, has gathered to hear what that particular person is going to say. The crowd may be friendly, or hostile; it may be eager to hear certain themes or refrains, and may roar with approval at ideas that they share; but even if the, say, elected official is explicitly presenting themselves as representative of or identified with the gathered crowd, nevertheless, the crowd has come to hear that particular individual (the headliner!). All of which is to say: microphones can confer or intensify vocal privilege to individuals as individuals, endowing those with access to them with political and social importance while simultaneously further establishing the value of their unique contributions to whatever discourse is underway (and indeed, this is one reason that it’s not just Trump’s horrific ideas that haunt Leff and far too many of us—the distinctive sound of his voice has been hammered into our consciousness, and, we would argue, is one of the factors that draw so many people to his events: they get to hear those things said in that voice). As we’ve argued above, microphones don’t accomplish such tasks necessarily. But when used in this way, the technology puts to work the very characteristic that Cavarero privileges with regard to voice—its uniqueness, its identifiability—to solidify the very power dynamics that the megaphone, in its strikingly different relationship to group identity and positionality, is sometimes better able to disrupt.

    Hillary Clinton’s (Sonic) Sphere of Influence

    We also want to address, albeit briefly, the points that Leff makes regarding Hillary Clinton’s voice, which in our book shows up as a site of gender inequality insofar as it is and was the target of a disproportionate amount of vocal disciplining, at least when compared to her male identified political counterparts. Leff notes that while we are correct to identify the sexism of such disciplining, putting forth Clinton as an example of a target of unjust vocal politics risks effacing the significant vocal privilege that she enjoys, particular with regard to the degree to which her ideas and decisions (ideas and decisions that, to a significant degree, perpetuate harmful systemic injustices) are amplified and valued. There is a question of scope here, Leff argues, by which we take him to mean that the vocal injustices that Clinton has experienced are dwarfed by the injustices, vocal and otherwise, imposed on marginalized social groups—injustices, again, for which the political elite, of which Clinton is a member, bear a disproportionate responsibility.

    We take Leff’s point, and hope, perhaps too optimistically, that the many discussions in the book of various types of vocal injustice ensure that the Clinton example does not succeed in effacing the broad and deep effects of vocal injustice on queer, immigrant, and disabled bodies, just to name a few. We also do want to defend the value of, at least sometimes, separating sonorous politics from linguistic or ideological politics. That is, we notice that Leff’s discussion of Clinton’s voice quickly slips into the metaphorical (his references to how her voice has supported imperialism, for example, uses “voice” as a stand-in for political power). We quite intentionally sought to keep some distance between what Clinton was saying in these examples, and the political positions that she has forwarded, to bring to the fore the politics of her vocal sounds. In doing so, we remain convinced that how Clinton’s voice is treated on the political stage can illuminate important forms of vocal gender inequality. Yet Leff’s point holds, at least to a degree; any illumination, after all, casts other areas into shadow, and when the individual whose experiences are being illuminated is as privileged as Clinton is, the swaths of human experience being cast into shadow can be wide indeed.

    The point here might be taken that so often a discussion of ethics orients us towards how tone-policing distracts the conversation away from a speaker’s content (MacLachlan 2022). Though we claim that Leff is eclipsing the distinction between voice as metaphor and voice as sound, he does draw our attention to the fact that a discussion concentrating so much focus on the way Clinton’s vocal tone was criticized could distract from a meaningful discussion about the content of her character, politics, and career. That would somewhat lie outside of our pursuit, however, as we are seeking to listen to how voices are disciplined and policed sonically. Yes, she has been given the mic over and over, and we might have other issues with her politics or use of power; yet the suspicion of her character hinged, in part, on a particular patriarchal listening ear’s insistence on hearing her voice itself as irritating, annoying, grating, insincere, and shrill, qualities that were resolutely and profoundly inextricable from her gender identity. These qualities were also amplified due to the “mic effect”—using more vocal force than necessary (compensatory volume) into the mic in an attempt to walk the precarious line between being compelling (perhaps even passionate) and being an over-emotional harpy. 

    We are also interested in Clinton’s use of a strategy to limit her sonic sphere of influence by using a noise machine to keep journalists from hearing a particular fundraising speech.  The use of scale here aimed to silence her own voice in a very specific way: keeping her voice semi-private to protect her speech from critique. The reporters did, of course, have recording devices of their own which subverted her attempt and captured both the speech and the strategy of sonic limitation itself.

    We do not seek to legitimize concerns of sexism at the expense of a criticism of her politics and (mis)use of power/platform. However, that platform was the setting for this particular set of criticisms about her voice, and the media’s (esp. right wing media’s) use of scale in re-framing the conversation about her eligibility for office in part around her voice (as a further justification for disliking her politics) is what we are particularly bringing attention to here.


    Bort, Ryan. “Republicans Are Doing Backflips Over Johnny Depp Winning His Defamation Case.” Rolling Stone, June 1, 2022.

    Dickson, EJ. “‘Demoralizing and Demeaning’: A Gross TikTok Trend Mocking Amber Heard is Going Viral.” Rolling Stone, May 9, 2022.

    MacLachlan, Alice. “Tone-Policing and the Assertion of Authority.” APA Blog: Women in Philosophy, May 22, 2022.


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