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.

Author Biography

Ed Cooper, University of Leeds

PhD Student, University of Leeds, UK


Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (J. Howe, Trans.). Verso.
Borchard, K. (2010). Between Poverty and a Lifestyle: The Leisure Activities of Homeless People in Las Vegas. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39(4), 441-466. DOI: 10.1177/0891241609341640
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. DOI: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Bull, M. (2006). Investigating the Culture of Mobile Listening: From Walkman to iPod. In: O’Hara, K. & Brown, B. (eds.), Consuming Music Together: Social and Collaborative Aspects of Music Consumption Technologies (pp. 131-149). Springer.
Bull, M. (2005). No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening. Leisure Studies, 24(4), 343-355. DOI: 10.1080/0261436052000330447
DeNora, T. (2000). Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press.
Dibben, N., & Haake, A. (2013). Music and the Construction of Space in Offi ce-Based Work Settings. In: Born, G. (ed.), Music, Sound and Experience: Transformations of Public and Private Space (pp. 151-168). Cambridge University Press.
Fitzpatrick, S., Kemp, P., & Klinker, S. (2000). Single Homelessness: An Overview of Research in Britain. The Policy Press.
German, D., & Latkin, C. (2012). Social Stability and Health: Exploring Multidimensional Social Disadvantage. Journal of Urban Health, 89(1), 19-35. DOI: 10.1007/s11524-011-9625-y
Jakubowski, K., & Ghosh, A. (2019). Music-evoked autobiographical memories in everyday life. Psychology of Music. DOI: 10.1177/0305735619888803
Juslin, P.N., & Laukka, P. (2004). Expression, Perception, and Induction of Musical Emotions: A Review and a Questionnaire Study of Everyday Listening. Journal of New Music Research, 33(3), 217-238. DOI: 10.1080/0929821042000317813
Juslin, P., & Sloboda, J. (2011). Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications. Oxford University Press.
Kidd, S. (2009). Social Stigma and Homeless Youth. In: Hulchanski, D., Campsie, P., Chau, S., Hwang,
S. & Paradis E. (eds.), Finding Home: Policy Options for Addressing Homelessness in Canada (pp. 1-14). Cities Centre.
Kidd, S., & Shahar, G. (2010). Resilience in Homeless Youth: The Key Role of Self-Esteem. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(2), 163-172. DOI: 10.1037/0002-9432.78.2.163
Legally Homeless (n.d.). Shelter. Retrieved 20 May 2020 from advice/homelessness/rules/legally_homeless
MacDonald, R., Hargreaves, D., & Miell, D. (2017). Changing Identity of Musical Identities. In: Mac-
Donald, R., Hargreaves, D., & Miell, D. (eds.), Handbook of Musical Identities (pp. 3-23). Oxford University Press.
McNaughton, C. (2008). Transitions Through Homelessness: Lives on The Edge. Palsgrave Macmillan.
Meanwell, E. (2012). Experiencing Homelessness: A Review of Recent Literature. Sociology Compass, 6(1), 72-85. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00432.x
McMahon, R. (1999). Eric Voegelin’s Paradoxes of Consciousness and Participation. The Review of Politics, 61(1), 117-139.
Rough Sleeping in England: Autumn 2017. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. Retrieved 26 May 2020 from
Rasmussen, C. (2008). Lonely Sounds: Sonic Self Suffi ciency, Personal Control, and Social Shields.
James A. Rawley Graduate Conference in the Humanities. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Skjoldager-Nielsen, K., & Edelman, J. (2014). Liminality. Ecumenica, 7(1-2), 33-40.
Street, S. (2016). The Memory of Sound: Preserving the Sonic Past. Routledge.
Szakolczai, A. (2000). Refl exive Historical Sociology. Routledge.
Szarecki, A. (2017). Managing the Sonic Environment: Ambient Noise, Creativity and the Regime of Ubiquitous Work. Journal of Sonic Studies, 15.
TedX Talks. (2012, 12 November). The difference between hearing and listening | Pauline Oliveros |
TEDxIndianapolis [Video]. YouTube.
Thomassen, B. (2018). Liminality and the Modern. Routledge.
Turner, V. (1967). The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press.
Turner, V. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Aldine Publishing.
van Gennep, A. (1960). The Rites of Passage: A Classical Study of Cultural Celebrations. Chicago University Press.
Voegelin, E. (1999). In Search of Order - Volume 5 of Order and History. University of Missouri.
Zillmann, D. (1988). Mood Management Through Communication Choices. American Behavioural Scientist, 31(3), 327–341. DOI:




How to Cite

Cooper, E. (2021). Listening from the in-between: The influence of sound on homelessness as a liminal space. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 10(1), 91–106.