Exploring Sound, Migration & Chaosmopolis

12 Oct 2014 | Alex Head

This species sucks, ...but it is my home. - Rosi Braidotti

Voice-Print Sculpture, The Freedom of Speech Itself, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 2012

Lawrence Abu Hamdan works with differing means of exploring boundaries of communication, human rights and law. His project Aural Contract, 2010- discusses the ways in which the voice itself can become a political agent. Highlighting a shift within the struggle for freedom of speech from that which is spoken to the very conditions through which we are being heard, Aural Contact, a three part documentary that informs a series of parallel works, examines both technical and political emphases away from subject-citizens and toward data.

Throughout the legal procedures investigated by Abu Hamdan the voice is used as a form of stethoscope allowing legal inquiry to delve deeper into its subjects. Accent analysis of asylum seekers and migrants is one such technological device. The software has been in use by border control authorities across Europe since 2003 as a means to determine, no-longer through the historic narrative of the subject- but through sonic pattern, ones (apparent) country of origin. Conclusions produced in this way are of course open to scrutiny, flawed and often inaccurate - not least because refugees and migrants endure long periods of movement causing accents, vocal habits and patterns to alter.

The voice-prints produced by this technology are of particular interest to those exploring the manifestation of migratory processes within urban and other geographic environments. The topographic voice-prints give us a clear picture of the political lines drawn around nationality and ethnicity and of the increased deferral of legal bodies to the identification of such categories through non-human means.


Segue to the lecture Becoming World - The Cosmopolitan Outlook beyond Liberal Individualism, given by Rosi Braidotti at the HU in Berlin last Wednesday. The work of Abu Hamdan is further enriched by the concerns expressed by Braidotti around the role of the humanities in shaping the very language used to understand what is currently termed the post-anthropocene or 'post-human curve'. Giving the disturbing backdrop of threats to ecology, the trans-human cyborg, genetic experimentation, artificial growth, austerity and the necropolitics (war machine) of global corporations, Braidotti argues for a Spinozian ethics of 'embodied brain, embrained body' starkly absent from the techno-political ambitions driving the above, 'post-human curve'. In doing so she also acknowledges the lack of a suitable or capable critical theory for countering the darker aspects of the post-anthropocene.

A sinkhole within the urban environment of Guatemala City. Photograph Luis Echeverria/AP

However, as a building block within the emergence of a possible critical theory for the 'post-human curve' Braidotti employed the term Chaosmopolis borrowed in turn from Félix Guattari by Verena Andermatt Conley. For Conley the Cosmopolitan precursor to todays chaosmopolis was revived by Jaques Derrida and Julia Kristeva in the context of European cities - "as a city of the world, or the world as city, composed of citizens who accept and tolerate each other, who cross boundaries and are aware of their interrelations. Yet cosmos, once thought to be stable, well-ordered and harmonious, has become, in the words of the late Félix Guattari, a chaosmos whose citizens as chaosmopolites make connections to form always temporary, partial assemblages."

As liminal spaces connected-to yet distinct from the official city, wastelands, which so often host migrant and excluded social groups, challenge the idea of a harmonious cosmopolitan city celebrated by European philosophers within the 18th century. They are apt spaces from which to conceive of the modern citizen as chaosmopolite;

"Citizens of tolerance, of knowledge and information, conversant with technologies and travel, we are, unlike earlier cosmopolites, not so much focused on displacement – unless forced – as on dislocation."

That the documentation of those subjects most exposed and vulnerable to the mutant transformations of global capital need occur with the highest sensitivity goes almost without saying. Having secured basic material means, one of the greatest problems for migrant communities is attaining legal recognition. With the near collapse of state-protected civil liberties, Conley's Chaosmopolis would seem to suggest that the development of situated, lasting forms of legal protection may only be feasible through localised, negotiated processes. These are arguably unsuited to the transitory, survivalist lives of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.

So while "chaosmopolites practice and invent a world that is neither pre-existent nor a totality but always partial", there is yet a long way to go in realising actually radical, transgressive spaces of borderless becoming.

Quotations: Chaosmopolis - V. A. Conley, Theory, Culture and Society, 2002