RESEARCH: Listening to sounds in medicine


This project concerns how medical staff are taught, and engage in, listening to sounds (of the patient’s body, of instruments, of the hospital environment), part of a larger research program entitled Sonic Skills: Sound and and Listening in Science, Technology and Medicine.


This project concerns how doctors and other hospital staff are taught, and engage in, listening to sounds (of the patient’s body, of instruments, of the hospital environment). The project is part of a larger research program entitled Sonic Skills: Sound and Listening in Science, Technology and Medicine, 1920s – now, supervised by Karin Bijsterveld at Maastricht University.

Listening to the body (called auscultation) has long been considered an integral part of the clinical exam, the stethoscope a hallmark of the doctor. The relevance of auscultation however has been questioned as new diagnostic technologies promise more standardised and evidence-based results. New technologies also in turn create new sounds in the hospital, which staff must attend to, as part of clinical care.

This project aims to explore the role and relevance of listening practices in medicine, and the ways in which doctors are taught such skills, using an ethnographic methodology. By contributing to the understanding of how and where doctors and other hospital staff learn and engage in listening to bodily and hospital sounds, the findings may assist in various aspects of medical education and broader understandings of the craft of medical practice.

The first stage of this research concerned the historical study of how medical students learnt the skills of listening, and was conducted by Dr Melissa van Drie (see her article in Senses and Society). For the second stage of the research I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Melbourne and Maastricht, in 2013. Melissa and I have written a journal article together about sharing sounds in medical education, which is forthcoming in the first issue of Sound Studies.

This project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Vici Scheme. See the NWO website and the Maastricht University MUSTS website for more information about the Sonic Skills project.

Anna Harris: Listening for Disease from Writing Centre on Vimeo.


Harris, Anna and Rice, Tom (under contract) Stethoscope. London: Reaktion.

Harris, Anna (2016) Doing the boogie woogie rather than 99?: A reflection on how words travel in medicine. Journal of Graduate Medical Education. 8 (5): 793-794.

Harris, Anna and Flynn, Eleanor (2017) Medical education of attention: A qualitative study of learning to listen to sound. Medical Teacher 39 (1): 79 – 84

Harris, Anna, Thomas Fuller, Alexandra Supper, Joeri Bruyninckyx and Melissa van Drie. (2016) What we hear, with our tongues (Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, Soundings).

Fuller, Thomas and Anna Harris (2016) Images of Istanbul (Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, Soundings).

Harris, Anna (2015) Listening-touch, affect and the crafting of medical bodies through percussion (Body & Society)

See the video abstract on Theory, Culture & Society here:

Harris, Anna (2015) Eliciting sound memories. The Public Historian 37 (4): in press.

Harris, Anna and van Drie, Melissa (2015) Sharing sound: Teaching, learning and researching sonic skillsSound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal): 98 – 117.

Harris, Anna (2015) Autophony: Listening to your eyes move (Casenotes, Somatosphere).

Harris, Anna (2015) Sounding disease, Guest post for Sociology of Diagnosis website.

Harris, Anna. (2015) Sounds of the body seeping from the page, Book review of Hearing and the Hospital: Sound, Listening, Knowledge and Experience by Tom Rice, The Senses and Society 10 (1): 115 – 118

Harris, Anna (2014) A murmuration of clinical tales, Book review of An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat by Cecil Helman, Centre for Medical Humanities blog.


Harris, Anna (2015) Sharing sound: Teaching and learning sonic skills in medical school, 19 March, Medical Education Unit, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Harris, Anna and van Drie, Melissa (2015), Learning how: Training bodies, producing knowledge Workshop, 5 – 7 February, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany

Harris, Anna (2014) Listening to your heart and hearing your eyes move: Following traces of autophony in medicine, at the 113th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association: Producing Anthropology, Washington DC, US, 3 – 7 December

Harris, Anna (2014) Training a sensible doctor: Technologies of sensory education in medicine, 2014 Joint 4S / ESOCITE Meeting, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20 – 23 August

Bijsterveld, Karin, Bruyninckx, Joeri, van Drie, Melissa, Harris, Anna, Krebs, Stefan and Supper, Alex. (2014) Sonic Skills in Sounds and Images. Podcast Presentation at Sonic Skills Public Day, Maastricht, The Netherlands, 17 January.

Harris, Anna (2013) How we do ethnography: exploring the digital, exploring with the digital workshop. Digital Ethnography Research Group seminar, 8 October, Design Hub, RMIT, Australia

About pneumaticpost

I am an anthropologist researching medical practices. For more about me, click here. Photo by Arjen Schmitz.

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