What did sound mean to French people as radio and other listening technologies began to proliferate in the early twentieth century? What was the...

What did sound mean to French people as radio and other listening technologies began to proliferate in the early twentieth century? What was the nature and significance of French auditory culture in the years between the two world wars? These are two of the central questions that Rebecca Scales pursues in her new book, Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921-1939 (Cambridge University Press, 2016). This is not a book focused on the institutional history or content of French radio during this period, however. Rather, Scales examines closely a range of ideas about sound and the development of what she calls the “radio nation,” a space of listening, cultural identity, and citizenship. Access to the airwaves, the “right to listen,” and the question of whether radio did or did not reflect the nation and its different members became vital areas of discussion and debate in the 1920 and 30s.

Radio and the Politics…explores the dynamic history of radio at a critical juncture in modern French political and cultural history. Its chapters explore the perspectives of sound producers and consumers, including broadcasters, politicians, educators, medical professionals, radio amateurs, disabled veterans, and a variety of other listeners throughout France. The book considers the broad space of the radio soundscape from Paris to the provinces, and the movement of sound waves beyond/across the borders of “metropolitan” France, in Algeria, and to and from other nations. Along the way, the book delves into a range of themes: postwar recovery, class and political differences, the relationship of individual bodies to the national body, tensions between public and private spaces and interests, and state control and surveillance. At once a history of the senses and technology, of French politics, culture and everyday life, this compelling book will be of great interest to readers (and listeners!) across multiple fields.


Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. A historian of culture and politics in the twentieth century, her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).

*The music that opens and closes the podcast is an instrumental version of Creatures, a song written by Vancouver artist/musician Casey Wei (performing as “hazy”). To hear more, please visit https://agonyklub.com/

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