Safe and sound: listening to Guns N’ Roses in the car

Simone Dennis*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The idea that road safety could be secured using sound – particularly talkback radio and music – is fascinating. This paper explores Ford’s recent and unprecedented level of investment in car stereos in its 2018 models alongside the terrifying 2014 anti-speeding commercial produced by the Northern Ireland Department of Environment (Road Safety). The commercial makes use of one musical track styled in two different ways to sonically represent safety and danger. Ford’s use of sound to create a feeling of safety for the driver, and the Department of Environment’s use of particular qualities of musical sound to craft ideals of safe and dangerous driving raise interesting questions: what is the relationship of sound to road safety? Why are specific qualities of sound related to safety and others to danger? I argue that conferral of safety (actual or fantastical) involves letting the dangerous world outside the car inside – even though we might think of safety as something we assure for ourselves by sealing out the external world, exercising control over it from our dashboards. I argue too that most explanations of why some qualities of sound assure safety obscure the workings of post-Fordist regulation that is so ‘natural’ its power goes unnoticed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1081-1098
    Number of pages18
    JournalSocial Anthropology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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