Sound Politics in São Paulo (Oxford University Press, 2019)
How does the state separate music from noise? How can such a filtering apparatus shape the content and form of sound production in the city? As a marker of co-presence to the hearing body, sound is always open to (or rather opens up) the politics of shared existence. In the throes of the post-dictatorship period, Brazil’s legislative and executive branches implemented a series of sweeping measures to address quality of life concerns, including environmental pollution and urban inequality. In São Paulo, noise control became a recurrent controversy, growing in size and scale between the 1990s and 2010s. Together with the much-debated fear of crime and the socioeconomic and cultural tensions between the rich urban center and the poor peripheries, such ecological agendas against noise as a harmful pollutant have reconfigured the presence of environmental sounds in the city. In this book, Cardoso argues that the framing of specific sounds as unavoidable, unnecessary, or as harmful “noise” has been an effective strategy to organize spaces and administer group behavior in this rapidly expanding city. He focuses on two interrelated processes. First, the series of institutional regulatory mechanisms that turn sounds into the all-embracing “noise” susceptible to state intervention. Second, the constant attempts of interested groups in either attaching or detaching specific sounds (musical events, industrial noise, traffic noise, religious sounds, etc.) from regulatory scrutiny. Sound-politics is the dynamic that emerges from both processes – the channels through which sounds enter (and leave) the sphere of state regulation.
“Introduction: Hearing Like a State,” Sound Studies, 2019 – special issue on Sound, Law, and Governance
In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues that legibility is of paramount importance for modern statecraft. The creation of an “administrative grid” for the sake of more efficient taxation and security, which included a range of bureaucratic and coercive mechanisms, turned a fictional and simplified shorthand (measurement standards, citizenship, land tenure, etc.) into reality – a reality that requires constant reassertion. For Scott, “The premodern state was, in many crucial respects, partially blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed ‘map’ of its terrain and its people. It lacked, for the most part, a measure, a metric, that would allow it to ‘translate’ what it knew into a common standard necessary for a synoptic view” (Scott 1998, 2). But how does the modern state hear? How do sounds and sound-making practices become (or fail to become) susceptible to state intervention? What are the common regulatory, disciplinary, and punishment mechanisms used in such an intervention?
“Translations and Translation Gaps: The Gunshot Acoustic Surveillance Experiment in Brazil.” Sound Studies, 2019
This article examines crime prevention as it relates to recent developments in audio monitoring for gun crime control. More specifically, I discuss the adoption of ShotSpotter, a device that detects and locates impulsive sounds. ShotSpotter can alert the police promptly whenever gunshots are fired, providing the location, number and exact time of the rounds fired, the number of shooters, and even the shooters’ direction of motion. To convert sound monitoring into crime control, the technology needs to perform a series of delicate translations (a term I borrow from actor-network theory) between a range of actors. The actors include concealed sensors distributed across urban space, software for filtering and analysing sounds, and experts working 24/7 to analyse and classify data. In the early 2010s, ShotSpotter was installed in two urban areas in Brazil with high rates of gun violence: Canoas (in southern Brazil) and Rio de Janeiro. Public officials and private companies involved with the project stated that the technology would revolutionise crime control in the country. However, I argue that several local translation gaps ended up affecting ShotSpotter’s performance.
“Sound-Politics in São Paulo: Noise Control and Administrative Flows,” Current Anthropology, 2018
In this article, I discuss community noise in São Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest, largest, and most emblematic modern metropolis. I draw on ethnographic research conducted between 2012 and 2015 with the antinoise agency and the police, the two main institutions responsible for dealing with community noise in the city. I present law enforcement assemblages as both unstable and heterogeneous, managed by people with different (and often diverging) expectations regarding how the city should sound. I expand on Bijsterveld’s notion of “paradox of control” and show that the heterogeneity of “noise” as an umbrella concept, the complexity of its scientific mensuration, and the unsteadiness of its legal encoding make this a particularly difficult object for the state to grasp. After describing the institutional flows inside the antinoise agency, I examine the troublesome ordeal of community noise for the São Paulo police department. The third section of the article introduces the concept of sound-politics, which I define as the ways in which sounds enter (and leave) the sphere of state control. I am particularly interested in how sounds turn into objects susceptible to state intervention through the establishment of specific regulatory, disciplinary, and punishing mechanisms.
“The Politics of Noise Control in São Paulo,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 2017
In this article, I discuss São Paulo’s legal apparatus in respect of environmental noise. I begin by situating my analysis within broader citizenship issues. I then focus on three debates on noise control in the city. The first two debates involve noise ordinances created in the 1990s and enforced by São Paulo’s Programa de Silêncio Urbano (Urban Silence Programme, PSIU). The first revolves around the evangelical lawmakers’ attempts to exclude, minimize or hinder the impact of a noise ordinance on religious services. The second debate focuses on an ordinance that required bars without acoustic insulation to close at 1 am – a demand that faced strong opposition from businesses involved in the night-time economy. The third debate describes the recent attempt of a group of acoustic engineers to lobby the city administration for the systematic mapping of traffic noise. I contend that environmental noise is a fruitful point of entry to investigate how the state mediates universal equality and individual freedom, welfare principles and economic gain.
“Brazilian Hip Hop in Three Scenes,” Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Music, 2018
This chapter focuses on three hip hop scenes in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil’s two largest cities. It begins with a discussion of democracia racial (racial democracy), a sociohistorical hypothesis that was taken up as a national point of pride. It argues that the concept is crucial to understand the relations between race and hip hop in the country. The remainder of the chapter focuses on three scenes between the 1980s and the 2010s. It starts with funk carioca, a highly popular dance-oriented music that took off at the funk parties. The second scene is São Paulo rap, which gained national attention with its more dance-averse laid-back beats and scathing commentary on violence and racism. The third and final case study examines funk ostentação, a variant of funk carioca centered on conspicuous consumption. The chapter concludes with a discussion of more recent shifts in hip hop, popular culture, and identity politics in the country.