The persistence of the oral: on the enduring importance of the human voice

Karpf, Anne (2016) The persistence of the oral: on the enduring importance of the human voice. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The submission, comprising nine outputs, ranges from journal articles and a book to a podcast and a radio programme. The accompanying commentary aims to contextualise the submitted work, demonstrate that it constitutes a coherent whole and that it makes a significant, original contribution to the field of cultural studies.

The submission and commentary contest the idea that the voice has become less important than text and image in an era that has come to be known as one of 'secondary orality'. The outputs set out to demonstrate that, although metaphorical and narrative meanings of 'voice' have come to displace a sense of the audible voice in popular discourse as well as in many scholarly texts, it remains a prime and powerful modality in both human communication and new technologies. Applying the approach of psycho-social studies to the voice in a novel and original way, the outputs draw on semi-structured interviews, archive research and cultural analysis to argue that, despite the discursive absence of the audible voice, a study of vocality can enrich our understanding of both face-to-face and electronically-mediated communication.

The commentary describes the phenomenological orientation of the outputs. Using the interdisciplinary approach of psycho-social studies to explore aspects of the cultural sphere, the submission is thus situated in the emerging strand of psycho-cultural studies: the commentary argues that, despite the methodological problems this throws up, it constitutes a valuable and apt addition to the study of voice. It suggests that gendered ideas of the voice may lead to an essentialism that can be countered by understanding the voice as a medium for the performativity of gender. Challenging the common polarisation of eye and ear and the idealisation of the voice, it traces some ways in which the voice is culturally-constituted, especially the radio and cinematic voice. The appendix documents not only the outputs' origins but also their wide impact.

KarpfAnne_ThePersistenceOfTheOral.pdf - Accepted Version

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