Thomas James Western
Tom Western is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Department of Musicology in the Faculty of Humanities. His research centres on sound, borders, and citizenships -- combining approaches from ethnomusicology, anthropology, forced migration studies and sound studies.
My ongoing research listens to the ways in which people protest border regimes and assert belonging at street level. I have worked in Athens, Greece, since 2016: collaborating with artists and activists to produce sound recordings of everyday life in the city. We hear how citizenships are performed and protested in sound, and how people assert sonic belonging in the face of denied asylum, racialised persection, and European border politics that play out in urban space. This sonic ethnography forms the basis of a book project, provisionally titled Sonopolis: Sound and Citizenship in Athens.
Recording the Borders
My work at the University of Oslo extends this research. My Marie Curie project -- "Recording the Borders: Sounding Displacement and Integration in Europe (RecBord)" -- examines how sound stimulates solidarities and frictions between different communities in two European cities. It centres on Athens and Oslo, putting the two cities into conversation: asking how music and sound inform experiences of displacement and practices of emplacement; how they both enable and constrain processes of inclusion and integration. Through collaborative ethnographic work, I aim to understand how sound is at once a means of constructing borders in cities, how it is used to contest and counter these borders, and how migrant activisms serve to disrupt borders between citizens and noncitizens altogether.
My first research project explored how ethnographic sound recordings were used to construct nations and borders in postwar Europe, and how histories of migration were silenced in the process. My first book -- National Phonography: Field Recording, Sound Archiving, and Producing the Nation (forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic Press) -- tells this history, tracing a continental and colonial trade of sounds and ideas, and showing how sonic citizenries were constructed and contested.
I am a core team member of a refugee-led activist collective in Athens, running workshops on the city and citizenship, sound recording and storytelling. I am also a Research Associate at the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, where I was an Early Career Fellow in 2018-19.
Teaching and Supervision
At the University of Oslo, I will be giving guest lectures on courses across musicology and research methods, and will be co-supervising masters students. I previously designed and taught a course on 'Writing and Representing Refugee Lives' at the University of Oxford. And I taught courses on 'Intercultural Musical Performance' and 'Making Sense of Popular Music' at the University of Edinburgh, as well as convening a Popular Music seminar series and supervising undergraduate dissertations. I am also an external masters supervisor in the Department of Sociology, Egyptology and Anthropology at the American University in Cairo.
Academic Service, Awards, and Imapact
- Marie Curie Individual Fellowship, University of Oslo (2019-21).
- Editor of ‘Mediterranean Music Studies’ blog for the Mediterranean Music Study Group, International Council of Traditional Music. https://mediterranean.music.blog/
- Swiss FDFA Research and Dissemination Fund, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford (2019).
- Nominated for ‘Best Overall Teacher’, Edinburgh University Students’ Association Teaching Awards (2017-2018).
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Postgraduate Studentship, University of Edinburgh (2011-2014).
- British Forum for Ethnomusicology prize for best student paper presented at the Annual Conference (2013).
- AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellowship for study at the Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington DC (2012-2013).
Tom Western. National Phonography: Field Recording, Sound Archiving, and Producing the Nation in Music. New York: Bloomsbury (forthcoming 2021).
Special Journal Issues
Tom Western, Tom Wagner, and Annette Davison. 2018. ‘Ethnomusicologies of Radio’. Ethnomusicology Forum, 27(3).
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Tom Western. 2020. ‘Listening with Displacement: Sound, Citizenship, and Disruptive Representations of Migration’. Migration and Society, 3.
Tom Western. 2019. ‘Start the Forgetting Machine! Online Sound Archives of European Traditional Music’. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 51.
Tom Western. 2018. ‘Introduction: Ethnomusicologies of Radio’. Ethnomusicology Forum, 27(3).
Tom Western. 2018. ‘Aural Borders, Aural Bordering’. Twentieth-Century Music, 15(3).
Tom Western. 2016. ‘Securing the Aural Border: Fieldwork and Interference in Postwar BBC Audio Nationalism’. Sound Studies, 1(1).
Tom Western. 2014. ‘“The Age of the Golden Ear”: The Columbia World Library and Sounding Out Postwar Field Recording’. Twentieth-Century Music, 11(2).
Peer-Reviewed Book Chapters
Tom Western. 2020. ‘Sonopolis: Activist Infrastructures and Sonic Citizenships in Athens’. In Audible Infrastructures: Music, Sound, Media, eds. Kyle Devine and Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tom Western. 2020. ‘Archival Silence: Friction, Remediation, and Purification in Online Sound Archives’. In Transcultural Music History, ed. Reinhard Strohm. Berlin: Verlag VWB.
Tom Western. 2020. ‘Sounding the Shelter, Voicing the Squat: Sonic Politics of Refugee Shelter in Athens’. In Structures of Protection: Rethinking Refugee Shelter, eds. Tom Scott-Smith and Mark E. Breeze. New York: Berghahn.
Tom Western. 2018. ‘National Phonography in the Musical Past: Empire, Archive, and Overlapping Musical Migrations in Britain’. In Confronting the National in the Musical Past, eds. Elaine Kelly, Derek Scott, and Markus Mantere. New York: Routledge.
Tom Western. 2018. ‘Field Recording and the Production of Place’. In Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound, eds. Samantha Bennett and Eliot Bates. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Tom Western, with the Syrian and Greek Youth Forum. 2020. ‘Refugee Feedback: Sounding Displacement and Citizenship in Athens’. A sound installation at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
Tom Western. 2019. ‘Loudspeakers / Loud Speakers’. https://mediterranean.music.blog/2019/04/23/loudspeakers/
Tom Western, Said Azim Karimi, Muhammad Sukarno Kurdi. Georgios Sourmelis, and Sofia Zafeiriou. 2017. ‘ΤΣΣΣΣ ΤΣΣΣ ΤΣΣ ΣΣΣ: Summer in Athens – A Sound Essay’. https://refugeehosts.org/tag/representations-of-displacement-series/