Dr Christabel Stirling

Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the ERC-funded ‘SONCITIES’ research project

BMus (KCL); MA (Oxford Brookes); DPhil (Oxford)


20th and 21st century music and sound art; social, cultural, and political theory; urban sociology and urban social life; musical experience, affect, and the body; music and politics; anthropology and sociology of music; ethnography.


Christabel Stirling is a musicologist specialising in ethnographic approaches to music and sound art in contemporary urban environments. She was awarded a DPhil in Music from Oxford University in 2019, with a thesis entitled ‘Orbital Transmissions: Affect and Musical Public-Making in London’, supervised by Georgina Born. Previously, she obtained an MA in Popular Music and Culture from Oxford Brookes University and a BMus from King’s College London, where she received the Purcell Prize for Music. She also completed a foundation diploma in Art & Design at Camberwell College of Arts. Her postgraduate studies were supported by the AHRC and the Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme.


Christabel’s research draws from music, anthropology, cultural studies, and history, and it has links to ethnomusicology, popular music studies, and sound studies. Her primary research to date has focused on the reception of classical, popular music and sound art in the UK, using a range of qualitative methods to explore the embodied experiences, social matrices, and publics that music and sound produce in their live performances. Her DPhil thesis pursued these themes through a multi-sited ethnography of London music and sound art scenes. Drawing insight from classical music, dub reggae, sound art, and electronic/dance music, the thesis investigates the role of affect in the formation of musical and sonic publics and examines the potential for such publics to transform and/or reinforce existing social and spatial orders. Both in her DPhil thesis, and in her research more broadly, she is interested in the generative relationship between theory and ethnography, and in the conceptual and epistemological transformations that can emerge from the frictional encounter between the two. More recently, she has started to develop a practice-based element to her research, exploring how sound can impart particular kinds of knowledge and understanding about the visceral, non-discursive aspects of musical and social experience and of urban public life more generally.


Before joining SONCITIES, Christabel worked as a lecturer and supervisor on the MA Music Business Management at Westminster University and as a freelance piano teacher in London. Since 2014, she has taught graduates and undergraduates at the Universities of Oxford, East London, and the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) on the following modules: the Socio-Cultural Study of Music; the Psychology of Music in Everyday Life; Global Hip-Hop; Popular Culture and Urban Studies; the History of Music Genre in the 20th Century; Music, Technology, Industry, and Writing; and Music Ethnography. Her research has been published in the Journal of Sonic Studies, Contemporary Music Review, and several edited book collections. She also DJs with the London-based sound system Tanum and occasionally puts on club nights and radio shows.

Selected Publications

(Forthcoming 2021). ‘The Gender of Genre: Affect, Time, and Addressivity in UK Sound System Music’. In D. Brackett & G. Born (eds.), Genre and Music: New Directions. Durham: Duke University Press.


(2020). ‘Sonic Methodologies in Urban Studies’. In M. Bull & M. Cobussen (eds.), The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Sonic Methodologies (pp. 115-139). London: Bloomsbury.


(2019). ‘Orbital Transmissions: Affect and Musical Public-Making in London’. DPhil Thesis, University of Oxford.


(2019). ‘Voice Memos from the Dancefloor’ [MP3, WAV]. In G. Ouzounian & J. Bingham-Hall (eds.), Acoustic Cities: London and Beirut. Oxford: Optophono.


(2018). ‘Sound, Affect, Politics’. In M. Bull (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Sound Studies (pp. 54-67). London and New York: Routledge.


(2017). ‘Crowds, Cordons, and Computers: Rethinking Density Through London’s Grime Scene’. In A. Batista, S. Kovács & C. Lesky (eds.), Re-thinking Density: Art, Culture and Urban Practices (pp. 212-231). Berlin: Sternberg Press.


(2016). ‘“Beyond the Dancefloor”? Gendered Publics and Creative Practices in Electronic Dance Music’. Contemporary Music Review 35(1): 130-149.


(2016). ‘Sound Art / Street Life: Tracing the Social and Political Effects of Sound Installations in London’. Journal of Sonic Studies 11.


Contact details

Dr Christabel Stirling