Listening for Learning

Performing a Pedagogy of Sound and Listening

by Chris McRae (Author)
©2021 Monographs XII, 244 Pages


Whoosh, crunch, buzz, inhale, exhale . . . Listening for Learning: Performing a Pedagogy of Sound and Listening presents sound, listening, and pedagogical interactions as performances that create relationships, ways of being and knowing, and that provide an opportunity for transformations of existing and taken-for-granted practices in the classroom. By using performative listening and performative writing this book presents fragments of sound and listening as sites of learning and knowledge production. The written fragments throughout this book are offered as performances that listen for and hear sound as a central feature to educational practices in terms of bodies, classrooms, and pedagogy. The goal in sharing this performance of listening is to create opportunities for recognition, to invite further listening in educational contexts, and to employ listening as an opportunity for transforming and re-imagining educational spaces and interactions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Listening to Bodies: Many Kinds of Sounds
  • Chapter 1. Listening for Learning Bodies
  • Chapter 2. Listening for Teaching Bodies
  • Chapter 3. Listening and Sounding Bodies
  • Part 2. Listening from Learning Spaces
  • Chapter 4. Listening to and from the Performance Lab
  • Chapter 5. Listening for Reverberations
  • Chapter 6. Listening and Sounding Spaces
  • Part 3. Listening to Pedagogy
  • Chapter 7. Listening as Pedagogy
  • Chapter 8. A Pedagogy of Sound
  • Chapter 9. A Pedagogy of Listening
  • Index

←viii | ix→


Listen. This project emerges from a specific space, a room, a performance lab. It is a site of experimentation, learning, and vibration. Housed in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida, the performance lab, CIS 3020, is where I first met performance studies as a field of inquiry. And it is where undergraduate and graduate classes with Stacy Holman Jones first encouraged my interests in music performance, performative writing, and listening. It is a room that I returned to in my first academic position, and it is the room where I teach all my classes.

Towards the end of the completion of this book, the COVID-19 global pandemic has led to a shift in my instructional mode and I am currently not holding classes in the performance lab. However, the lab still features prominently in this book, and in my thinking about and experience of listening as a pedagogical and performative act. For these reasons, it does not feel all that strange for me to begin with an acknowledgment of the role the performance lab plays in the creation of this book.

Because it is a classroom, the performance lab is also a space where I am privileged to encounter and learn from dozens of students every semester. Each of these students and encounters impact and shape my listening and thinking throughout this project. I am especially privileged to know and work ←ix | x→for extended periods of time with some of these students including Alyse Keller, Adolfo Lagomasino, Christina Magalona, Mike McDowell, Marquese McFerguson, Brooks Oglesby, Sasha Sanders, Lihanna Stanley, and Leanna Smithberger. Their presence in my classes expands my listening.

The performance lab is a space that is located within an institution and department that has enabled and maintains the use of this space for the study and practice of performance. I am grateful for this as a space created and supported by the past and present faculty in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida.

The performance lab also locates me in conversation with scholars in the field of performance studies through both invited performances, conversations about performance-making, and performance pedagogy. I am particularly grateful for the performances and mentorship of Elizabeth Bell, Marcy Chvasta, Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, Jonathan Gray, Stacy Holman Jones, Amy Kilgard, Michael LeVan, Keith Nainby, Ron Pelias, Elyse Pineau, Heidi Rose, and Nathan Stucky. Their teaching shapes my thinking about performance and listening. I also continue to be impacted in my listening by and am grateful for my experience working with, learning from, and knowing John T. Warren and Suzanne Daughton. Their lessons and compassion continue to resonate.

The performance lab is an important and generative site that informs this project; and though it is a space that I turn to and return to as a performer and teacher I always come to this space from other locations. The relationships that precede and exceed the limits of the lab reverberate and resonate in ways that persist throughout the writing and listening of this project. I am especially appreciative for the support of my first teachers, my parents Laurie and Randy. I am also thankful for the care of all of my family members including Danny, Michelle, Riley, Leo, Mandy, Zach, Bob, Lyn, Katy, and Chris.

I am infinitely thankful for the listening and compassion of Aubrey Huber. She is always my first reader, editor, and sounding board. She is my collaborator in performance and teaching. She listens with me. And it is my privilege to count her as my partner in life. This project echoes with her impact, her thoughtfulness, her care, and her creativity.

Finally, Graham and Oliver are my newest and most vibrant teachers. Thank you for your sounds and lessons in listening.

←x | 1→


Listen. Learning sounds. Learning resonates and reverberates. Learning happens in, next to, and with sound. Learning exceeds sound. And listening to the sounding of learning, of teaching, and of classrooms is always an act of pedagogy. It is a performance of engaging, creating, and changing the textures and dynamics of learning and teaching. Listening to and for learning is an opportunity to create new pedagogical interactions, to re-configure classrooms, and to reimagine the relationships between and among students and teachers.

Throughout this book, and this introduction, I approach sound, listening, and pedagogical interactions as performances that create relationships, ways of being and knowing, and that provide and present an opportunity for transformations of existing and taken-for-granted practices in the classroom. Sound effects bodies and affects the scenes and sites of interaction. Sound is vibration. Sound is immersive.1 Sound is a way of knowing and being in the world.2 Sound is performance.3 And in this book I approach performances of sound as always emerging in relationship to and with performances of listening.4 Importantly, I do not consider listening to be a performance that is exclusively a physiological act. Instead, listening in this book is an ethical and performative stance of openness that precedes or accompanies dialogic modes of engagement in the service of creating new and better worlds.5Listening for Learning: Performing a Pedagogy of Sound and Listening is a reflection, a meditation, an attunement to ←1 | 2→learning, and it is an invitation for a proliferation of performances of listening for learning and other pedagogical performances.

Teaching Performance

I currently teach courses in the area of performance studies within a communication department. Some of the courses that I teach include Introduction to Communication as Performance, Performing Identity & Culture, Group Performance of Literature, Performing Relationships, and Writing for Performance. These classes, and the other courses in the performance curriculum, all begin with the course prefix “ORI” which is an abbreviation for oral interpretation and an indicator of the institutional and disciplinary histories of the curriculum. In the discipline of communication, the label of “oral interpretation” precedes performance studies as a label for courses of study that privilege performance as a site of knowledge production. Oral interpretation is at once an act that can be aesthetic, communicative, and analytical.6 As the name suggests, oral interpretation is invested, at least in part, in the learning and knowledge that is made possible through the spoken word. By speaking written words aloud, new interpretations, critiques, and discoveries about texts, others, and the self are made possible. The shift from oral interpretation to performance studies allows for an expanded understanding of performance; however, the epistemological value and possibilities of speaking and performing remains a central concern of the area of study.7

One implication of teaching courses in performance studies is that the use of the classroom is heavily characterized by presentations and performances. In my case, I am fortunate to work in a department with a dedicated performance lab.8 This space has moveable seating, stage lighting, theater curtains, and even a dedicated storage area for props, rehearsal cubes, and risers. The room enables students to create and present staged readings, solo and group performances, and performance installations.9 In the ongoing effort to maintain and update this space, the department recently secured funds and went through the process of renovating the floor in the performance lab. After over 25 years the carpeted floor was replaced with a cork-backed, hard-surface, vinyl flooring material. After the installation, I entered the lab and for the first time since I first walked into the space 17 years ago, the floor was new to me.

The shift from worn carpet to a vinyl surface allowed for an expanded understanding of my body in the space, and of the space. Visually the room appeared changed: bigger and brighter. The floor felt different: smoother and ←2 | 3→with more bounce. Though I couldn’t discern a different smell in the space, I know that given the usually full canister on the vacuum cleaner, the carpet trapped and contained dust, hair, and dirt. And now, the new floor excluded the opportunity for this collection of dirt and dust, perhaps providing a reprieve for my sinuses and allergies. And as I walked deeper into the lab, what I anticipated most became overwhelmingly certain: this floor made my experience of sound in the space different.10 The sound of my shoes clicking on the floor, the sounds of my voice, the sounds of students taking their seats were all just a little different: brighter, sharper, just a little bit more than they were when the floor was carpeted. This new floor disrupted my otherwise taken-for-granted ways of being in the room.11

I am tempted to make a clever link between the shift from oral interpretation to performance studies and the shift from carpet to vinyl flooring, but what is more important to me is the fact that oral interpretation, performance studies, and the effects of new floor all point to ways of knowing in and from the body.12 My goal in teaching courses in performance studies is often to draw attention to and privilege the ways bodies come to know the world and are shaped by larger cultural and institutional structures. The installation of new flooring in the performance lab provides a mundane and material example of the ways individual performances and ways of knowing and learning are entangled with cultural and institutional forms and structures.

The occasion of the installation of the new floor in the performance lab is a notable disruption to and transformation of this classroom. This new floor presents a reminder about the ways learning and knowing are always entangled with the felt experience of classrooms, pedagogical interactions, and broader social, cultural, historical, political, and material structures and configurations (including vinyl flooring material).13 This new floor also presents an invitation to engage with, contemplate, and listen to the ways bodies engage with, create, and transform pedagogical interactions. Listening for Learning engages this invitation and works to enact a mode of listening that exceeds the physiological apprehension of sound to consider the ways learning, teaching, and pedagogy are felt, embodied, and might be reimagined through listening.

Performative Listening and Critical Performative Pedagogy

This book begins where my last efforts at defining and describing listening as a performative act end (McRae 2). Or perhaps it is better to say that this project ←3 | 4→takes up the invitation that I offer with performative listening as a way of attending to and attuning to the infinitely instructive possibilities of the world and others by turning my attention and listening to the sounds of learning in educational contexts and pedagogical interactions. The goal of this book is to attend to learning sounds, not only as pedagogically relevant details of classroom experience, but as evidence of the critical and embodied significance of pedagogical interactions and as an opportunity for disrupting and transforming the formation of these interactions. In other words, the goal of this book is to employ listening as a critical mode of engaging and transforming pedagogical interactions, contexts, and practices. As David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny state, “Sound, then, is a substance of the world as well as a basic part of how people frame their knowledge about the world” (2). In terms of pedagogy and classroom interaction, sound is a substance of the classroom as well as a basic part of how people enter, learn, and perform in the classroom.

Performative listening is an understanding of listening as an embodied practice of critically and reflexively engaging others across difference. In Performative Listening I focus the possibilities of this definition of listening as a performative act in terms of qualitative research. I suggest questions and commitments that might guide a qualitative research practice that is informed by a listening stance. Performative listening offers a method for engaging others across difference that is attentive to the ways encountering others is always a pedagogical opportunity. As a method, performative listening is also attuned to a critical reflexivity that attends to the ways the subject position of the listener is always situated within larger structures of power that are historical, institutional, and always located in the specificity of the here and now. The critical reflexivity of performative listening is also guided by an awareness of the generative and potentially transformative possibilities of listening as a way of learning from others.

By specifying performative listening as an applicable method for engaging in qualitative research practices I work to broaden the reach of what might otherwise be understood as a narrow project of theorizing listening in terms of my own research interests in performance studies and music performance. But this broadening of performative listening in terms of method also has a narrowing function. Specifying performative listening as a qualitative method positions performative listening within a specialized project of scholarly inquiry via qualitative research. I now return to the invitation of performative listening to engage more fully with the ethical, aesthetic, and transformative possibilities of performative listening as a pedagogy of performance.

←4 |

This project moves beyond a concern with applicability and method and moves towards a discussion of performative listening as a generative performance of imagination and invitation. This is not a project of how to listen, or how to apply a mode of listening to an interactional context. Instead this book works to perform listening, and to take seriously the heuristic potential of listening in pedagogical contexts. This book listens to and for the ways learning sounds, might sound, and might sound differently. This work is committed to the aims of critical performative pedagogy which focuses on how bodies create, maintain, and transform social and cultural structures through performance (Pineau 42). Critical performative pedagogy considers the role of power and privilege in shaping the ways bodies perform in classroom contexts. Moreover, critical performative pedagogy emphasizes the possibilities of performance as a method for identifying and disrupting the social and cultural constraints that impact teaching and learning (McRae & Huber 5). In this way, performative listening engages sound as an embodied performance of learning, and this engagement via listening is an act of critical performative pedagogy.

Performative listening is a way of being in and coming to know the world, and in this way, Listening for Learning is an enactment of performative listening that works to demonstrate the ontological and epistemological functions of performative listening. The goal of this project is not to ask how performative listening might shape the ways we approach others in research, but instead to ask how performative listening might understand and transform pedagogical interactions. Performative listening offers a way of configuring the world, of self and other, and of the ways we move and intervene within these configurations. This book activates performative listening as a performance, as a worldmaking, and as a critical pedagogy.


XII, 244
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 244 pp.

Biographical notes

Chris McRae (Author)

Chris McRae (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University Carbondale) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida. He is author of Performative Listening (Peter Lang, 2015) and co-author of Creating Performances for Teaching and Learning (2017).


Title: Listening for Learning
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