A Note on Methodology


Interviews were conducted with twenty-seven self-selecting respondents aged between twenty-two and fifty-six.[1] An online call for participants was circulated with the aim of surveying a wide range of individuals with experience of headphone listening across both recreational and professional contexts. Those interviewed hailed from across the globe and included commuters, musicians, office workers, television captioners, conference interpreters, diplomats, speech pathologists, military service members, and more. The rationale for the breadth of the eligibility criteria for the study was in part to widen the predominant focus on mobile, recreational music listening in humanities studies of headphone use and experience. The aim was therefore to produce a more cohesive phenomenological portrait of all kinds of contemporary practices involving headphones, one formed through the weaving of thematic constellations across a diverse data corpus. 

Interviews were loosely structured to afford individuals the opportunity to focus on the aspects of their listening experiences that they deemed most noteworthy. Four overarching themes linked all interviews, and topics of discussion were always gently guided toward the orbit of these central concerns: auditory space, sonic embodiment, material human–technology relations, and wider socio-environmental engagement. Interviewees were encouraged to refer to specific experiences (or types of experience) in as much detail as possible, drawing directly from the broader ambition of phenomenologies of perception to effect “a reordering of what was tacitly known but went unnoticed” (Critchley 2001: 119). Given the emergent character of each interview, there was no strict, pre-given set of questions. Most questions were open to substantial variation in response (e.g., “Could you tell me about the most recent time you used your headphones?”) but occasionally probed specific aspects of perceptual experience (e.g., “Where would you say you perceive the sound relayed by your headphones in relation to your body?”). In all cases, interviewees were asked not only to describe phenomenological appearances but also to reflect critically on the “meanings” that such experiences had for them. Such freedom in interview structure often resulted in rich, detailed, and complex accounts of previous experiences.

Data were coded using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006), identifying common themes that emerged across interviews. Specific data extracts were later analyzed in light of broader phenomenological theories, especially those pertaining to listening (e.g., Herbert 2011; Ihde 2007; LaBelle 2010) and embodied space (e.g., Leder 1990; Merleau-Ponty 2012; Morris 2004), as well as in light of more specific phenomenological literature – here, those concerned with notions of home (e.g., Bachelard 2014; Jacobson 2009; Steinbock 1995) – to consider theme-specific details of the evidence in greater depth and to create more robust conceptual tools based on resonances with wider theoretical work. 

Each informant chose their own pseudonym, which was not required to correspond with their self-identifying gender. Any other identifying information is not included here.