Conclusion


That cultural archive is now located between our ears, in our hearts and in our bodies. 

~ Gloria Wekker, 2016

This research looked into the ways in which the sonic can offer a better understanding about the haunting past of the city of Amsterdam. Within a hauntology framework, a way of re-listening has been used to position the sounds to different archives. This study builds on the longer tradition of hauntology that has been used in relation to the continuing impacts of slavery, while centering sound (and affect as ethics) within its methodological practice. In the different sound themes, that followed ‘the voyage’ of slavery, different physical places in Amsterdam were selected. By closely investigating the urban design and social reality of the seventeenth century city, the functioning of the city, which was build for the (slave) trade, was brought into focus. Following the construction, voyage and story of a physical slave ship in relation to Amsterdam thus enabled me to record sounds on places that were physically part of that story. With this methodological practice, derived from the work of Sharpe (2016) who used similar themes to construct her hauntological research, the first sub question of this research can be answered through the selection of locations for every sound theme.

In this study, Amsterdam was not seen as a neutral place, but approached as a landscape of memory in which the buildings, the streets, the water and our bodies, all considered as archives, construct a complex, social and bodily reality that is continuously influenced by traces of the past. This complex reality cannot be understood without looking at the past. However, most conventional ways of learning from our history are through analyzing institutional archives that are strongly affected by a dominant culture. These archives can thus only present a distorted or incomplete history. Because of that,  the specter of colonial trauma still haunts the city of Amsterdam. The materiality of the haunting seeped into the facades of the monumental warehouses. It grew into the streets and it saturated the water with painful memories. These painful memories find their source at a period of more than two centuries in which the Netherlands bought, traded and sold people and forcefully put people to work for the sake of Dutch, economic prosperity. The trauma of this period of time continues to be an open and painful wound in society, when it is felt for instance during the ‘debates’ about the annual Blackface tradition. The wound is pulsing and alive. It is alive in the ‘pro-active’ policy of Dutch police forces that predominantly target people of color (Çankaya, 2012). And it pulses through the sense of national pride manifested in the word of the ‘Golden Age’ when referring to the era of Dutch colonial supremacy in the seventeenth century.

By visiting the construction site where the slave ship Leusden was built, a soundscape was collected that provided insights into how the materiality of the ordinary demonstrates haunting continuations of the past. From a strong wind to an uncanny feeling; all of these sounds and feelings are examples of how the past is felt through our bodies as affective archives. For the sound theme of The Shipped I visited the grave of Elieser, the only known grave yard in the Netherlands of a (formerly) enslaved person. Visceral intensities were felt most strongly there. At the proximity of the living-dead that experienced the trauma at first hand, the true core of Dutch trauma was felt. The core of a human trauma that contains many unheard sounds of terror and resistance that was carried by the sea and stored into the city. At the sound theme of The Stored the critical juncture was found in which a place can initially feel like a quiet, warm and friendly neighborhood, but then turn into a haunting place once it is inscribed by a narrative. Building on the insights of Bell (2018) ‘mere collections of wood and poles’ turn into haunting places that still resonate stories of wealthy residents of Amsterdam that profited from the slave trade. The inscribed collections of wood and poles then demonstrate that by storing the products from the colonies, much of the trauma has also been stored into the buildings itself. The final sound theme, The Water, demonstrated the ways in which different sounds of resistance and dominant historiography are continuously colliding with each other. Building on the theoretical starting point of Derrida, the moment we listen to the water, we enter a non-binary space of the living-dead. In this space we feel that absence and presence are human social constructs of a much more complex reality in which ‘there are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces’ (Derrida, 1972, p. 24). The Water also indicated that the water’s materiality memorizes the trauma and holds the city into a grip. Finally, this sound theme showed how our bodies are moving and ‘living’ archives that are affected by echoes of the ‘dead’.

Another important finding of this research is the distinct relationship between sound and whiteness which relates to the third sub question of this research. Sounds can never be completely ‘blocked from view’ like one can do with the visual, because of the unprotected nature of our ears (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). To block the undesirable thus means to label the incoming sounds as ‘noise’ and filter them out. However, this filtering function is delicate and fragile. This can be found in Dutch, white historiography in which undesirable sounds of the past which were not in line with the prideful story of a small and innocent country, were filtered out. However, the sonic gives the possibility to expose this fragility, because of the difficulty of blocking audial information. In other words, when something is being filtered, it has not been disappeared. And once these sounds are heard again, it exposes the filtering function of dominant structures of power. During the sound theme of The Shipped, I physically experienced my own filtering function when I encountered trauma by trying to filter out the feeling of the uncanny. Whiteness is not only the ability of filtering out, but also the privilege of using this mechanism. I walked away from the trauma, because I was personally able to do so. And without these sensibilities, which included the sonic, my own fragility would not have been exposed.

So what can we learn about the way sounds can be used in sociology research to interrogate the presence of the past? During this research, many sounds were recorded together with the analysis of different archives. The sounds presented a unique pulse that can be positioned in relation to the archive. However, sounds of the ordinary are not particularly representing clear links with an archival narrative at any moment. Just like ordinary affects, sounds from ordinary things are ‘both flighty and hardwired, shifty and unstable but palpable too.’ (Steward, 2007, p. 3). The charge of things can all of a sudden be sensed as it can pop out of the ordinary soundscape. Or it can slowly grow into our consciousness as a half-known influence.

As stated in the methodology section, this way of using audial representations does not imply a mimetic representation of the haunting. However, with a good archival analysis and honest, critical and open ethical choices, this research showed that the sonic can bring us a bit closer to the haunting past of urban realities like Amsterdam. Therefore, researching colonial trauma in other cities would be an interesting direction for future research. One of the main challenges of this research was the methodological and ethical tension of representing the unheard trauma of ghosts. This research can be seen as a humble start for future research to investigate how we can ethically work with and through this tension in order to advance the auditory sensibility that is needed in sociology research. The moment that the sonic, together with smell and touch, is centered around the ways in which we (bodily) experience our social lives, then sociology research can come closer to the complexities of continuing traces of inequality and violence in our societies. 

This research looked into the ways in which the sonic can offer a better understanding about the haunting past of the city of Amsterdam. Within a hauntology framework, a way of re-listening has been used to position the sounds to different archives. This study builds on the longer tradition of hauntology that has been used in relation to the continuing impacts of slavery, while centering sound (and affect as ethics) within its methodological practice. In the different sound themes, that followed ‘the voyage’ of slavery, different physical places in Amsterdam were selected. By closely investigating the urban design and social reality of the seventeenth century city, the functioning of the city, which was build for the (slave) trade, was brought into focus. Following the construction, voyage and story of a physical slave ship in relation to Amsterdam thus enabled me to record sounds on places that were physically part of that story. With this methodological practice, derived from the work of Sharpe (2016) who used similar themes to construct her hauntological research, the first sub question of this research can be answered through the selection of locations for every sound theme.

In this study, Amsterdam was not seen as a neutral place, but approached as a landscape of memory in which the buildings, the streets, the water and our bodies, all considered as archives, construct a complex, social and bodily reality that is continuously influenced by traces of the past. This complex reality cannot be understood without looking at the past. However, most conventional ways of learning from our history are through analyzing institutional archives that are strongly affected by a dominant culture. These archives can thus only present a distorted or incomplete history. Because of that,  the specter of colonial trauma still haunts the city of Amsterdam. The materiality of the haunting seeped into the facades of the monumental warehouses. It grew into the streets and it saturated the water with painful memories. These painful memories find their source at a period of more than two centuries in which the Netherlands bought, traded and sold people and forcefully put people to work for the sake of Dutch, economic prosperity. The trauma of this period of time continues to be an open and painful wound in society, when it is felt for instance during the ‘debates’ about the annual Blackface tradition. The wound is pulsing and alive. It is alive in the ‘pro-active’ policy of Dutch police forces that predominantly target people of color (Çankaya, 2012). And it pulses through the sense of national pride manifested in the word of the ‘Golden Age’ when referring to the era of Dutch colonial supremacy in the seventeenth century.

By visiting the construction site where the slave ship Leusden was built, a soundscape was collected that provided insights into how the materiality of the ordinary demonstrates haunting continuations of the past. From a strong wind to an uncanny feeling; all of these sounds and feelings are examples of how the past is felt through our bodies as affective archives. For the sound theme of The Shipped I visited the grave of Elieser, the only known grave yard in the Netherlands of a (formerly) enslaved person. Visceral intensities were felt most strongly there. At the proximity of the living-dead that experienced the trauma at first hand, the true core of Dutch trauma was felt. The core of a human trauma that contains many unheard sounds of terror and resistance that was carried by the sea and stored into the city. At the sound theme of The Stored the critical juncture was found in which a place can initially feel like a quiet, warm and friendly neighborhood, but then turn into a haunting place once it is inscribed by a narrative. Building on the insights of Bell (2018) ‘mere collections of wood and poles’ turn into haunting places that still resonate stories of wealthy residents of Amsterdam that profited from the slave trade. The inscribed collections of wood and poles then demonstrate that by storing the products from the colonies, much of the trauma has also been stored into the buildings itself. The final sound theme, The Water, demonstrated the ways in which different sounds of resistance and dominant historiography are continuously colliding with each other. Building on the theoretical starting point of Derrida, the moment we listen to the water, we enter a non-binary space of the living-dead. In this space we feel that absence and presence are human social constructs of a much more complex reality in which ‘there are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces’ (Derrida, 1972, p. 24). The Water also indicated that the water’s materiality memorizes the trauma and holds the city into a grip. Finally, this sound theme showed how our bodies are moving and ‘living’ archives that are affected by echoes of the ‘dead’.

Another important finding of this research is the distinct relationship between sound and whiteness which relates to the third sub question of this research. Sounds can never be completely ‘blocked from view’ like one can do with the visual, because of the unprotected nature of our ears (Schafer, 1993, p. 103). To block the undesirable thus means to label the incoming sounds as ‘noise’ and filter them out. However, this filtering function is delicate and fragile. This can be found in Dutch, white historiography in which undesirable sounds of the past which were not in line with the prideful story of a small and innocent country, were filtered out. However, the sonic gives the possibility to expose this fragility, because of the difficulty of blocking audial information. In other words, when something is being filtered, it has not been disappeared. And once these sounds are heard again, it exposes the filtering function of dominant structures of power. During the sound theme of The Shipped, I physically experienced my own filtering function when I encountered trauma by trying to filter out the feeling of the uncanny. Whiteness is not only the ability of filtering out, but also the privilege of using this mechanism. I walked away from the trauma, because I was personally able to do so. And without these sensibilities, which included the sonic, my own fragility would not have been exposed.

So what can we learn about the way sounds can be used in sociology research to interrogate the presence of the past? During this research, many sounds were recorded together with the analysis of different archives. The sounds presented a unique pulse that can be positioned in relation to the archive. However, sounds of the ordinary are not particularly representing clear links with an archival narrative at any moment. Just like ordinary affects, sounds from ordinary things are ‘both flighty and hardwired, shifty and unstable but palpable too.’ (Steward, 2007, p. 3). The charge of things can all of a sudden be sensed as it can pop out of the ordinary soundscape. Or it can slowly grow into our consciousness as a half-known influence.

As stated in the methodology section, this way of using audial representations does not imply a mimetic representation of the haunting. However, with a good archival analysis and honest, critical and open ethical choices, this research showed that the sonic can bring us a bit closer to the haunting past of urban realities like Amsterdam. Therefore, researching colonial trauma in other cities would be an interesting direction for future research. One of the main challenges of this research was the methodological and ethical tension of representing the unheard trauma of ghosts. This research can be seen as a humble start for future research to investigate how we can ethically work with and through this tension in order to advance the auditory sensibility that is needed in sociology research. The moment that the sonic, together with smell and touch, is centered around the ways in which we (bodily) experience our social lives, then sociology research can come closer to the complexities of continuing traces of inequality and violence in our societies.