Listening from the in-between
The influence of sound on homelessness as a liminal space
With homelessness being prevalent across the United Kingdom and showing no sign of decreasing, it is imperative to better understand the experiences of individuals who fall into these diffi cult circumstances. A previously unexplored aspect of homelessness is engagement with sound. This article addresses this lacuna by investigating how the understanding of sonic space is related to individuals’ experiences of homelessness. The article considers homelessness through the analytical lens of ‘liminality’—a period when an individual or space has neither a former nor future identity, whilst simultaneously, paradoxically, possessing both (van Gennep, 1960). Taking a phenomenological approach, interviews were undertaken with residents of a halfway house in Leeds, UK, whose circumstances are between ‘literal homelessness’ and social housing. The study demonstrates the ways in which participants actively engage with sound and liminality in day-to-day life, regularly curating inhabited sonic environments which are often seen by members of ‘mainstream’ society as ‘non-places’. A distinction is made between quietness and silence: whereas quietness offered the participants an escape, the prospect of silence—being left alone with one’s thoughts—was often worrisome. Further differentiation is made between actively ‘listening to’ and ‘hearing’ (Oliveros, 2005) these individual sonic spaces—the participants’ focus is positioned between external sonic stimuli and their own internal thoughts, highlighting a betweenness of consciousness. Overall, the article fi nds that interactions with sound are key components of the liminal experience of homelessness.
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