Listening in the Hospital

Main researchers: Anna Harris and Melissa van Drie

This project concerned 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 incorporated both a historical, and a contemporary component.
The historical part of the project traced how medical students are instructed to listen to body sounds through an analysis of the pedagogical means strategies employed in media such as textbooks and audio tapes.

Model and stethoscopesListening 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. The aim of the second part of this project was to explore the role and relevance of listening practices in contemporary medicine, and the ways in which doctors are taught such skills, using an ethnographic methodology. Fieldwork was conducted in 2013 in hospitals and medical schools in Melbourne, Australia, and Maastricht, The Netherlands.

This project is now completed. Please find the publications that have arisen from the research to date below.


Related Publications:

Anna Harris (2015), “Listening-touch, Affect and the Crafting of Medical Bodies through Percussion“, in: Body & Society, online before print.

Anna Harris (2015), “Eliciting Sound Memories“, in: The Public Historian, vol.37:4, pp.14-31.

Anna Harris (2015), Sounds of the body seeping from the page. Review of “Hearing and the Hospital: Sound, Listening, Knowledge and Experience” by Tom Rice (Canon Pyon, 2013), The Senses and Society 10:1, pp. 115-118.

Anna Harris (2014), Book Review of ‘An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat’ by Cecil Helman, on Center for Medical Humanities blog.

Stefan Krebs and Melissa van Drie (2014), The Art of Stethoscope Use: Diagnostic Listening Practices of Medical Physicians and “Auto Doctors”, in ICON. Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology, vol. 20:2, 92–114.

Melissa van Drie (2013), “Training the Auscultative Ear: Medical Textbooks and Teaching Tapes (1950–2010)“, in The Senses and Society, vol.8:2, 165-191.


Interviews and Blogs:

Sounding Disease. Guest blog post by Anna Harris on Sociology of Diagnosis.

Short interview with Anna Harris about her research by the Writing Centre of the Melbourne School of Graduate Research in as part of their ’60 Second PhD’ project: