Civil noise and its discontents

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Ellison, David
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Denney, Peter
Buchan, Bruce
Ellison, David
Crawley, Karen
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2019
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Abstract

Recent scholarship in eighteenth-century British history has done much to complicate the apparently stark opposition between polite and impolite cultures. Politeness emerges from these accounts as a much roomier, cross-class category capable of embracing, in Paul Langford’s words, ‘a great variety of values, attitudes and ideas,’ including behaviour that would appear to be its opposite. 1 It is from within these efforts to challenge self-evidently antithetical terms that this chapter finds its subject: civil noise; noise acknowledged as something in excess of articulate, intended or desired sound, yet not presumptively excluded on those grounds. For us, civil noise is likely encountered in provisions protecting the sonically besieged, as in civil noise abatement or civil noise ordinances. Such instruments assume that civility perishes under noise and that legal curtailment is restorative. To some extent, the emergence of the discourse of politeness initiated, or at least consolidated, this link between noise and incivility, leading to numerous attempts to regulate the acoustic environment of urban life. 2 Less noticed in both studies of sound and civility, however, is that, for extended periods in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, noise was also heard from within the soundscape of English politeness, not countering it.

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Sound, Space and Civility in the British World, 1700-1850
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© 2019 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Sound Space and Civility in the British World 1700-1850 on 4 December 2018, available online: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315609942-6
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Human society
Courtesy in literature
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Ellison, D, Civil noise and its discontents, Sound, Space and Civility in the British World, 1700-1850, 2019, pp. 106-120
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