Graduate Research Colloquium: Inaugural Lecture by Professor Naomi Waltham-Smith (University of Oxford)


The omens aren’t good. The Arts and Humanities Research Council and Arts Council England budgets have been cut. University departments are facing closure. Long-term underfunding has left secondary music education in a parlous state. Despite the rhetoric, government policies are threatening to make music and related arts the preserve of the few. At this conjuncture, I sketch out another future for a university throughout which sound—in thought and practice—would resonate broadly, cutting across disciplinarity and permeating the ways in which the university addresses itself internally and to the wider world. Relying on a felicitous homonym in English, I exploit the adjectival sense of sound to enquire after the health and integrity of the university in the years ahead. Further, I ask what role “the university of sound” has to play in sounding out planetary wellbeing in the face of multiple crises of climate catastrophe, runaway inequality, democratic disaffection, revanchist ethnonationalisms, and proliferating forms of extractivism. As a provocation, I set out an intellectual and political project, driven by transdisciplinary theories of sound, for the Du Boisian abolition and reconstruction of the university as a democratic institution. In this vision, “the sound university” of the future would assume the mantle of auscultating the world and of returning echoes that imagine and remake it otherwise.



Naomi Waltham-Smith is Professor of Music and Douglas Algar Tutorial Fellow at Merton College. She came to Oxford in September 2023 from the University of Warwick where she was Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies and Deputy Chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Interested in the politics of listening, she works at the intersection of music and sound studies with continental philosophy, decolonial theory, and Black radical thought. She is the author of Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford UP, 2017), Shattering Biopolitics: Militant Listening and the Sound of Life (Fordham UP, 2021), Mapping (Post)colonial Paris by Ear (Cambridge UP, 2023), and Free Listening (Nebraska UP, 2024). She has been awarded fellowships at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, Akademie Schloss Solitude, and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.