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Sonic Ethnography in Theory and Practice  

Walter S. Gershon

As its name suggests, sonic ethnography sits at the intersection of studies of sound and ethnographic methodologies. This methodological category can be applied to interpretive studies of sound, ethnographic studies that foreground sound theoretically and metaphorically, and studies that utilize sound practices similar to those found in forms of audio recording and sound art, for example. Just as using ocular metaphors or video practices does not make an ethnographic study any more truthful, the use of sonic metaphors or audio recording practices still requires the painstaking, ethical, reflexivity, time, thought, analysis, and care that are hallmarks for strong ethnographies across academic fields and disciplines. Similarly, the purpose of sonic ethnography is not to suggest that sound is any more real or important than other sensuous understandings but is instead to underscore the power and potential of the sonic for qualitative researchers within and outside of education. A move to the sonic is theoretically, methodologically, and practically significant for a variety of reasons, not least of which are (a) its ability to interrupt ocular pathways for conceptualizing and conducting qualitative research; (b) for providing a mode for more actively listening to local educational ecologies and the wide variety of things, processes, and understandings of which they are comprised; (c) ethical and more transparent means for expressing findings; and (d) a complex and deep tool for gathering, analyzing, and expressing ethnographic information. In sum, sonic ethnography opens a world of sound possibilities for educational researchers that at once deepen and provide alternate pathways for understanding everyday educational interactions and the sociocultural contexts that help render those ways of being, doing, and knowing sensible.