A Brief Note on the Legitimacy of Violence Through Sound


In this paper, readers might notice a contradiction between forms of violence and seduction through sound: sometimes a body prevents the action of another through forms of blocking, while at other times such barriers exert a force, somatically convincing individuals to echo the force or move in directions they might not otherwise take. The ambiguity of this use of sounds inherently brings up a discussion regarding the legitimacy of violent acts. When is the action of one body justified in disturbing the agency of another? To what extent do such colonizing sonorities also materialize disputes based on asymmetrical power relations? In short, to what extent can we talk about sonic imperialism in the occupation of public or private space?


In exploring the criteria that define revolutionary violence, Hardt and Negri (2009) raise the following questions: Which weapons and strategies are most effective in achieving victory? Which weapons are most effective for multitude building? Hardt and Negri were interested in understanding the mutations by which contemporary capitalism reinvents forms of exploitation of the labor of the many for the benefit of a restricted class. They tried to glimpse possibilities of latent structural transformations in the current economic system that would enable the emergence of new forms of social organization – which they call the multitude – characterized by a more direct democracy in which agents have a greater possibility of realizing their desires and powers. In this scenario, it is assumed that legitimate violence is violence by means of which the oppressed resists or turns against the oppressor. Nevertheless, for Hardt and Negri, not all legitimate violence is revolutionary and therefore necessary.


While some of the cases raised in this paper seem to clearly offer an example of illegitimate sonic violence – the sound war waged between bars in a public space – others can obviously be considered examples of legitimate sonic violence – the sound disputes over ownership of a territory conquered ancestrally by an Afro-Brazilian religion or those held within a political demonstration. Others, though, ambiguously move through a grey zone in which the conditions used in violent action are understandable, although the agency’s meaning does not seem justifiable: a homeless man who asks pedestrians for help in threatening tones, the sounds of weapons and fireworks in regions dominated by drug dealers or militias regulating the circulation and daily life of its inhabitants. More than ginga,[3] a survival strategy, or playing with the norms that constitute societies, these violent sonic practices make explicit the violent social structures to which we are subjected and the ambiguity of actions that, on the one hand, articulate a demand for a fair share in a society marked by unequal distribution of security and, on the other, reproduce the same hierarchical conditions within the dominated regions. They may also point toward what political theorist Saul Newman calls “spaces of autonomy and insurrection,” understood as those that would be “fostering alternative forms of life, new relations and intensities” (Newman 2011: 353). In the process of creating and defending these spaces, confrontations with the state may occur. Autonomy and insurrection, though, would work better as a micropolitics that supplements macro-level policies rather than offering ways of supplanting macro-politics. This political model of autonomy would also require a democracy that is built to resist the state instead of being linked to it.


Even though we cannot provide a full and definitive answer to the dilemmas presented in this article, we recognize their importance in allowing us to understand the ways in which power relations are embedded in violent forms that animate daily life. Violence is structured neither only at the level of fighting for indispensable resources nor in the more spiritual field of symbolic disputes. Politics also reverberates in the somatic by impacting bodies with sensory and aesthetic asymmetries within the struggle for the occupation of space against the resistance of other social actors.