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Journal Article

Golden Ears and Meter Readers: The Contest for Epistemic Authority in Audiophilia

Marc Perlman
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 34, No. 5, Special Issue on Sound Studies: New Technologies and Music (Oct., 2004), pp. 783-807
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4144361
Page Count: 25
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Golden Ears and Meter Readers: The Contest for Epistemic Authority in Audiophilia
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Abstract

Scientific claims to knowledge and the uses of technological artifacts are both inherently contestable, but both are not usually contested together. Consumers of 'specialty' audio equipment (known as the 'high end'), however, connect both forms of resistance. These 'audiophiles' construct their own universe of meaning around their equipment; they cultivate a distinctive vocabulary and set of attitudes. In this they resemble other groups of users dedicated to supposedly antiquated technology. But they also engage in controversy to defend themselves against knowledge-claims that would delegitimize their universe of meaning. These debates concern recording formats or media (the relative merits of the compact disk [CD] and long-playing record [LP]), user 'tweaks' of purchased equipment, and the supposed audibility of differences between different brands of amplifiers, cables, or CD players. In all of these cases, audiophiles resist the claims of audio engineering by privileging their personal experiences, and they argue against scientific methodologies that seem to expose those experiences as illusory. Some of these patterns of epistemic contestation resemble those in non-musical domains (such as biomedicine). But audiophiles also make epistemic use of values crucial to their identity as music-lovers. They appeal to a common understanding of music as an exemplary locus of subjectivity, emotion, and self-surrender, in order to ward off the criticisms directed at them from a science they construe as objective, detached, and dispassionate.

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