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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Former Mellon Fellow Key McFarlane Publishes "Negative Research" in The Professional Geographer

Noise and Negativity

The October issue of The Professional Geographer includes an article by Key MacFarlane, a 2016 Mellon Summer Fellow for New Public Projects in the Humanities. “Negative Research: Sonic Methods in Geography and their Limits,” explores, together with another case study, the process of developing a public project that received support from Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics, a Mellon initiative launched in 2015 at the Simpson Center with the aim of transforming graduate education.

Key’s funded project during the summer of 2016 was a participatory digital sound map of the Seattle area representing the lived sonic experiences of refugees and migrants. In the article, MacFarlane takes the logistical, ethical, and political challenges posed by this public project as an occasion to interrogate the presumed immediacy and transparency of sound, as well as the reification of sonic geography as a method. As an alternative, MacFarlane articulates a negative (sonic) geography, which posits sound as mediated and structured by social relations of power. Using this method, researchers might “do more to attend to their own negativity: what they fail to hear or say about the world.” MacFarlane further writes, “It is because the two projects discussed here were unfinished that they exposed larger social relations of exclusion and violence. It is, again, because of their incompleteness that they gesture toward a different totality altogether: a world in which these relations are abolished.”

Congratulations, Key!

Learn more about the public projects of Mellon summer fellows here.