Sonic ethnography

Identity, heritage and creative research practice in Basilicata, southern Italy

By Lorenzo Ferrarini and Nicola Scaldaferri

Sonic ethnography

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5200-8
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: December 2020
  • BIC Category: PHOTOGRAPHY / Photoessays & Documentaries, MUSIC / Ethnomusicology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, Italy, The arts / Folk & traditional music, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Society & social sciences / Anthropology, TRAVEL / Europe / Italy, Anthropology
  • Series: Anthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography


Sonic ethnography makes a compelling argument for taking sound seriously as a crucial component of social life and as an ethnographic form of representation. This volume explores the role of sound-making and listening practices in the formation of local identities in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. With an approach that cuts across sensory anthropology, sound studies and ethnomusicology, Sonic ethnography demonstrates how acoustic tradition is made and disrupted and acoustic communities are brought together in shared temporality and space. Based extensive research, this volume provides an innovative take on soundful cultural performances such as tree rituals, carnivals, pilgrimages and more informal musical performances, with particular attention to the interactions between classic ethnographic scholarship from the past century and the local politics of heritage.

Featuring stunning colour photographs and more than an hour of sound recordings, Sonic ethnography uses a unique combination of media to investigate distinctive ways of knowing, beyond more traditional ethnographic forms of representation. Two methodological chapters, respectively on music-making as creative research practice and on photo-ethnography, make the book an essential contribution for those interested in the production of sounds and still images as relational and interactive approaches to fieldwork. The pioneering anthropologist of sound, Steven Feld, collaborated to some of the research and contributed to the book an afterword and a soundscape composition.


'This is a sublime and exhilarating work. Its multi-faceted, multi-media approach is truly breathtaking; the photography itself conveys sound just as much as the text and sound files do.'
Judging panel, 2021 ICTM Book Prize

'The sensory submersion into cultural practice has the effect of bringing the audience in as participants; a truly successful way of imparting knowledge and experience.'
Judging panel, 2021 ICTM Book Prize

'Their thoughtful reflections on methodology and theoretical musings provide a wealth of insights on cultural politics, heritage policies, arts practice research, creative interventions, and photography in anthropology.'
Judging panel, 2021 ICTM Book Prize


2021 ICTM Book Prize by the International Council for Traditional Music


1 When the trees resound: towards a sonic ethnography of the Maggio festival in Accettura
2 Soundmasks in resounding places: listening to the Campanaccio of San Mauro Forte
3 Sonic devotion and sonic control: struggles for power over a festival soundscape
4 Sounds and images of nostalgia: the revival of Lucanian wheat festivals
5 Voices across the ocean: recorded memories and diasporic identity in the archive of Giuseppe Chiaffitella
6 Doing research in sound: music-making as creative intervention
7 Photographing as an anthropologist: notes on developing a photo-ethnographic practice in Basilicata
Afterword by Steven Feld

Listening guide

Audio tracks:
Soundscape composition - Accettura 2005 - Tuesday (17 May) by Steven Feld

1 The saint and the tree
2 Rhythms in the dark
3 'We came a long way.'
4 Dancing with wheat
5 Memories from a loyal companion
6 A musical journey with my zampogna



Lorenzo Ferrarini is a Lecturer in Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester

Nicola Scaldaferri is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Milan

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