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Stephen Sullivan


Mellon Fellow

Affiliation at time of award:
PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Northwestern University

Stephen Sullivan
Courtesy Northwestern University

Amplifying Gentrification: Contestations of Sound and Space in Brooklyn, New York

Thoughts of gentrification may evoke scenes of urban renewal, such as proliferating high-rise condominiums, art galleries, and trendy cafés. These signs of urbanization reflect shifting tastes often caused by an influx of newer residents. Yet such portrayals of city life take for granted the different ways residents experience and use urban space. Recent reports attribute discontent with gentrification to increasing levels of sound. Amid urbanization and housing scarcity, residents are increasingly angered by loud neighbors, invasive music, and construction noise. How do residents judge what kinds of sounds belong or are out of place? How do these evaluations inform their everyday interactions and local politics? In other words, what does gentrification sound like? Sullivan’s research examines these questions in a working-class Latinx Brooklyn neighborhood that is experiencing rapid gentrification.

Scholars have often analyzed social and physical changes in gentrifying areas as separate processes. Meanwhile, popular accounts focus narrowly on noise complaints, without paying sufficient attention to the political and historical conditions they reflect. This project uses the concept of soundscape to offer a more integrated, on-the-ground account of gentrification and its discontents. Perceptions of sound, what counts as “noisy,” depend upon listeners, technologies, and policies like zoning laws. “Soundscape” thus provides a way to rethink the links between everyday experiences in a gentrifying neighborhood and larger processes, including the transformation of public space, demographics, and public surveillance.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Generous funding for this Fellowship provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.