Texting and calling public spheres: mobile phones, sound art and Habermas

Frauke Behrendt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


This paper is concerned with mobile sound art, that is, with the use of mobile technology in public sound art. It investigates if and how works of mobile sound art can show ways of (re-) constituting public sphere(s). Mobile technology has started to reverse the domestication of media and allows people to use (their own) media (devices) in public space. At present, this happens mainly in form of private communication and consumption: phone calls, text messages, music listening. This paper challenges this use by looking at art projects that experiment with a different use of mobile media, with opening up private messages to a public debate. I suggest that artistic, activist and collective use(s) of mobile media might also be able to contribute to contemporary public spheres. The examples illustrate that artistic interventions do not need to be “eye-opening”, they can also be ear-opening (Habermas, 1985). Sound art breaks with the dominant textual culture and the visual paradigm of art. The presented examples feature a use of sound in public that is not commercialised (e.g. Muzak) and individualised (e.g. iPod). Instead the use of sound in these examples enables some sort of collaboration, a form of communication, where the process of communicating is the work of art. The case studies in this paper make noise in public, they show how we could use our mobile devices to participate in political debates, to exchange arguments, to reach an understanding. The focus on the artist being a facilitator of communication, of providing a platform for public debate, all these ideas strongly resonate with Habermas’ concept of the public sphere of always being in the making, and being established via communicative action. I argue that sound art in public could take on similar functions to oral discourse, Speakers’ Corner, noisy demonstrations and protests. This exploration of how mobile technology and art might be able to constitute public spheres is especially relevant with regards to a younger audience that can use the familiar and intimate technology of their mobile phones to interact with contemporary public art.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfter the mobile phone? Social changes and the development of mobile communication
EditorsMaren Hartmann, Patrick Rössler, Joachim Höflich
Place of PublicationBerlin, Germany
PublisherFrank & Timme
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9783865961679
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2008

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