Rebecca Scales: Radio Broadcasting and Subversive Sound in Algeria: Looking for Listeners in the French Colonial Archive

Lecture and Q&A

Date & Location

May 20, 3:00 PM GMT+1
Online: Zoom, Facebook

About the Event

This talk explores the politics of radio and broadcast sound in French colonial Algeria in the mid-1930s. While the colonial state surveilled the broadcasts of the settler-run Radio-Algiers, French authorities worried that Algerians might be tuning into Arabic propaganda broadcast by Italian and German radio stations, as well as programs from across North Africa and the Middle East. For colonial bureaucrats, who had long relied upon visual modes of surveillance to control their subjects, the immateriality and invisibility of radio waves proved especially threatening. The subjective and individualized nature of listening also bewildered colonial agents, who struggled to determine when radio listening left the realm of entertainment to become a politically subversive act. Working with the colonial archives poses similar challenges for historians of auditory culture: what can we ultimately learn from them about Algerians’ listening habits and preferences, and what elements of the colonial soundscape remain elusive?


Rebecca Scales is Associate Professor of History at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She is the author of Radio and the Politics of Auditory Culture in Interwar France (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and the co-author of a forthcoming volume entitled Wireless World: International Broadcasting in the Twentieth Century. In July, with colleagues Andrea Stanton and Alejandra Bronfman, she will be co-directing a two-week summer institute for university faculty, “Radio and Decolonization: Bringing Sound into Twentieth-Century History,” funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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