Abstract: This article proposes some analytical and methodological approaches to the urban ethnography of the human voice. Drawing on research among Protestant Christians in Seoul, South Korea, I consider the voice along three semiotic dimensions: the relationship between body and sound, the relationship between speech and song, and the relationship between the literal voice and more metaphorical understandings of voice (as perspective, political position, personhood, style, etc.). By focusing on Seoul’s rapid postwar urbanization, the growth of Protestant Christianity, and the intersection of these two phenomena in the suppression and erasure of signs of struggle and hardship by a certain population among the city’s Christians, I demonstrate how a focus on the human voice has the potential to illuminate important issues in the urban ethnography of newer Asian ‘megacities.’
Abstract: Among Syriac Orthodox Christian migrant communities in the Netherlands, liturgical performance is a site of controversy over where and how to draw a boundary between “religious” and “ethnic” identity. Tensions materialize in discordant singing styles and modes of performance, echoing complex historical encounters with Dutch, Syrian, and Turkish secularisms. These encounters, I argue, have refashioned the liturgical tradition’s role as a central axis of ethnoreligious social life and kin relations across the diaspora. Secular state practices shape a diasporic sensory culture that is met with a distinct form of vocal agency. Syriac Orthodox liturgical experiments show how the voice can transform the sensorial interface between human subjectivity and social intelligibility, in turn transforming how categories of secular modernity—whether ritual, art, ethnicity, or politics—are distinguished and lived.
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Publisher’s Description: Songs of Seoul is an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines, Songs of Seoul develops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.