Spring 2020

Hearing Difference: The Political Economy of Accent

Listed in: , as COLQ-342


Pooja G. Rangan (Section 01)


Accents can be global and local, ethnic and national, cosmopolitan and provincial, unconscious and performative, racialized and gendered—often all at once. And yet, although everyone speaks with an accent, some accents are heard as “neutral” whereas others are heard as “accented.” These differences have serious implications: accent can be a passport for entry or grounds for discrimination, leading to the denial or approval of asylum claims and job or housing applications. Indeed, accent has become a lynchpin of the contemporary global economy, with complex industries devoted to the training, detection, neutralization, and monetization of particular accents. This seminar will introduce students to representations of accented speech and the experience of accented subjects as a researchable subject that teaches us much about the political economy of listening and the commodity-status of vocal sounds. The course will be organized into three units: theory, method, and site. During the first half of the course, we will encounter how accent has been theorized in a range of disciplines, including sociology, linguistics, sound studies, literary studies, and film studies. Diverse methods, from ethnography and case studies to close textual analysis and quantitative analysis, are employed in each of these fields. In the final unit of the class we will mobilize these competencies by studying various global sites that demand an approach that is intersectional, interdisciplinary, and methodologically nimble, including the offshore call center and cloud-based voice services. Students will then write their own prospectus for a research project on accent focused on a site that they will identify.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Rangan.

If Overenrolled: interested students will be asked to write a brief essay to gain admission


Attention to Research


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020