Professor Naomi Waltham-Smith

Douglas Algar Tutor in Music

I am an interdisciplinary scholar, working at the intersection of music theory, recent European philosophy, and sound studies. I am interested in the politics of listening across multiple contexts from the centre of Austro-German musical canon and liberal democracy to antiracist and environmental struggles and even casinos. Beyond academic publication, I work collaboratively in the public sphere to develop these ideas through listening workshops and citizens’ assemblies, multimedia installations in galleries and public spaces, and long-term community collaborations.

I came to Oxford in September 2023 from the University of Warwick where I was Reader, then Professor, in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies and Deputy Chair (Education) of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Before that, I was Assistant Professor in Music and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, having held postdoctoral fellowships at Indiana University and City University.


I am the author of three books, and co-editor of a volume of the new Bloomsbury Cultural History of Western Music. My first monograph, Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (Oxford UP, 2017) addresses, from musical-analytical and philosophical perspectives, how listening promotes ideals and experiences of community. Shattering Biopolitics: Militant Listening and the Sound of Life (Fordham UP, 2021), completed during a fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, interweaves readings of deconstructionist thinkers with analyses of sound art and activism to examine aurality’s implication in the governance of life. In the wake of a resurgence of antiracist organizing on both sides of the Atlantic, my third monograph, Mapping (Post)colonial Paris by Ear (Cambridge UP, 2023), draws on a decade of fieldwork in the banlieue, supported by funding from the Mellon Foundation; the project reinvents the bourgeois figure of the flâneur as a feminist-decolonial field recordist and configures listening as an expressly spatial practice of mapping the traces of France’s coloniality.

I am currently working on a book, supported by funding from the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy and a fellowship at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, that excavates a hidden concept of listening in the history of political philosophy in the hope of illuminating the challenges facing our democracies today. My interest in listening extends to the university as a site of democratic deliberation. As well as contributing to the higher education sector’s work on academic freedom, I have written a monograph on the importance of free critical inquiry, which is forthcoming in 2024 in Nebraska University Press’s Provocations series and is entitled Free Listening.


At Oxford, I teach papers in music theory and analysis; philosophy and critical theory of music and sound; and music, technology, and politics in the long nineteenth century. I am keen to hear from prospective DPhil applicants interested in philosophical approaches to music analysis and sound studies, the politics of aurality, decolonial aesthetics, the environmental humanities, and interdisciplinary studies of listening.

I have a strong belief in the liberatory potential of education. The granddaughter of an Irish miner, I was the first in my family to go to university, or even to study for A-levels. I was the beneficiary of a scholarship-funded private secondary education and a bursary at the Royal College of Music Junior Department. I found an intellectual home as an undergraduate at Selwyn College, Cambridge largely thanks to the College’s commitment to welcoming students from diverse backgrounds and a hugely supportive Director of Studies. I am deeply committed to fighting for more equal and equitable access to higher education and for opportunities for everyone to fulfil their intellectual curiosity, especially in the interdisciplinary humanities.


For an up-to-date list of publications please see my personal website.