Brian Larkin – Group 1

By in Lectures on March 30, 2015

Notes on/response to Brian Larkin’s presentation:

“Techniques of Inattention: Religion and the Mediality of Loudspeakers in Nigeria”
March 9, 2015 @ The New School, NYC

By Kevin Harnett, Shayla Mulzac, Paolo Alliegro, and Guoguo Xi


“Secular Machines” Why Loudspeakers? Sonic vs. Visual Media
  • Technological media are often considered to be inherently secular
  • Secularization, as defined in Stout’s Media and Religion, is “the idea that religious commitment weakens through exposure to media” (12).
  • Larkin challenges this notion. Loudspeakers play an important role in religious practice in Nigeria
  • Loudspeakers have an embedded history in Nigeria as a Colonial/educational medium
  • This history helps establish the loudspeaker as a sonic authority
  • Competition among religious groups = competition for airwaves (sonic space)
  • Nigeria has a sonic culture, whereas NYC, for example, has a much more visual media culture.
  • Media compete for attention
  • Visual media can be turned away from and dismissed. Sonic media are difficult to ignore

Loudspeaker on Bicycle (Northern Nigeria) – Source: Brian Larkin “Techniques of Inattention: Religion and the Mediality of Loudspeakers in Nigeria”

NYC Street – Source: “USA-NYC-Koreatown99” by Ingfbruno

Acoustic Violence and Inattention

  • The aggressive religious soundscape in Nigeria facilitates religious division among residents
  • Nigerians must practice inattentiveness and dismiss religious media they do not affiliate with
  • At what point does sound become violence?


Response Essay

Media and Inattention—A Problematic Relationship

In media-rich urban cultures, where the visual and sonic assault can be at times overwhelming, we urban dwellers often have to cultivate techniques of inattention. We have to learn how to filter media and their messages—particularly those that seem to be aimed at different target audiences. But to what end?

Media and consumer inattention evolve in parallel. They form a positive feedback loop. As consumers become better at filtering media, media become more difficult to filter – more aggressive. The volume knob on the loudspeaker gets turned up, so to speak. And at a certain point, it can become violent. The aggressive religious soundscape that exists in Nigeria, for instance, facilitates a sense of religious division (intolerance even) among residents. The loudspeaker, then, can be seen as a sonic weapon—a form of acoustic violence—that plays a role in aiding the conflict between religious organizations in Nigeria. Media that forces itself upon consumers in this way can be seen as an weapon of violence that should be confronted.

Inattention has a breaking point. If we step back and look at media from a purely marketing standpoint, its basic purpose is to encourage consumers to support a message. It could be argued that imposition plays no role in this. As soon as a consumer is forced to attend to a message, despite her conscious efforts of inattentiveness, the experience becomes negative. However, as the loudspeakers in Nigeria show us, imposition is sometimes a fundamental purpose of media. As Larkin points out, the loudspeakers in Nigeria do not enhance the messages being relayed. In fact, the loudspeakers often distort the sound signals and are largely just a way to impose sonic control over a particular space. In such instances, media can be seen as an assault against the free will of residents. As technological media continue to evolve in response to consumer inattention, we need to cultivate better awareness and governance to appropriately balance the rights of media makers and the free will of consumers.

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