Dr. Jennifer Hsieh is an LSA Collegiate Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University of Michigan. Her current book project is a study of the scientific, bureaucratic, and audiovisual practices underlying the production of environmental noise from early twentieth-century Taiwan to the present. She received her PhD in anthropology from Stanford and has previously held research fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Vossius Center at University of Amsterdam, and Fairbank Center at Harvard.
Testing Hearing: Audiometry and Environmental Noise Control in Postwar Taiwan
As part of democratic liberalization in the late 1970s and 1980s, noise abatement signified the Kuomintang (KMT) regime’s efforts to attend to the quality of life of local Taiwanese subjects. However, the use of scientific, objective indicators for noise, as decibels, had the effect of subjecting individual, human experience to the standardizing techniques of quantification and measurement. In this paper, I examine the application of Western technologies of audiometry and noise abatement in the context of Taiwan’s transition to a postauthoritarian state. Following 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research at the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration’s Noise Control Office in Taipei, I trace interactions between otolaryngologists, policy makers, and public health educators behind the creation of Taiwan’s centralized noise management system. Through an analysis of audiometric testing of hearing health among deaf schoolchildren to socio-acoustic surveys that assessed one’s noise tolerance levels, I examine how hearing and noise became an interest of the state—as both a continuation of surveillance practices and as a symbol of liberalization. This paper is part of a larger project in which I analyze how noise petitioners and civil servants in Taiwan mediate political engagement through the technocratic measurement of environmental noise.