1. Introduction: Observing marginality through listening
The paper aims to reveal the relationship between marginality and the diffusion of specific urban sonic cues. In order to begin on solid theoretical footing, it is necessary to clarify our understanding of “marginality”, where I propose it is possible to listen to marginality, and how sonic awareness of marginality could help to further an understanding of social and spatial segregation.
I define marginal urban areas as low on the list of government priorities due to 1) significant “distance” from big centers, 2) lack of infrastructures or 3) anthropic or natural barriers. Social segregation is one the first outcomes that can arise from such marginalization.
The notion of marginality often corresponds to a socio-cultural situation where dwellers are unable to self-represent and self-govern (Lindblom 1965). From this perspective, a marginal area inhabitant – normally living in lower-income neighborhoods - is the protagonist of an abandoned environment; its “language” is not the institutional one, and its self-activation tools are insufficient to stimulate any relevant change within its social and physical surroundings.
Therefore, listening to lower-income neighborhoods and marginality represents a challenge that connects sonic studies with urban planning and public policy design: What does urban segregation sound like? How can a sonic understanding of this issue stimulate a reframing of policy? These are the central questions this paper approaches through a case study of Belfast urban environent.