Naomi Waltham-Smith

Assistant Professor
Music Building, Room 332

Naomi Waltham-Smith’s work lies at the threshold between recent European philosophy and music and sound studies. She is interested in how sound and listening are implicated in politics of community and are paradigms for the ways we relate to others. Her work engages with French deconstruction, recent Italian thought on biopolitics and immaterial labor, eighteenth-century instrumental music, Italian radical design and neorealist cinema, Kafka, and casinos.

Her first book project Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (out in 2017 from Oxford University Press) explores how stylistic and formal aspects of the instrumental music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven enter into a politics of belonging. Understanding belonging as both inclusion and possession, it examines how listening participates in the production of community, private property, and self-possession.

Waltham-Smith is also writing a second book tentatively entitled The Biopolitics of Sound. This is a speculative study for a political philosophy series which explains why sound and listening have been appropriated in post-Heideggerian thought as a way to (re)think the common. It asks what modes of listening are produced under neoliberalism and in what ways the ear is an instrument and obstacle for the biopolitical regime. She is also working on a comparative study of urban soundscapes today, from the Parisian banlieues and the east end of London to the urban villages of Chinese cities and the casino capitalisms of Las Vegas and Macau. Using field recordings and GIS mapping, this project looks at how sound is embroiled within the biopolitical production of precarity under post-Fordism and in activist movements protesting these conditions.

Waltham-Smith is co-chair of the Society for Music Theory Music and Philosophy Group and is a member of the American Comparative Literature Association and the German Studies Association. At Penn, she participates in the Mellon Humanities + Urbanism + Design Colloquium and the Faculty Working Group on Environmental Humanities. She is committed to nurturing the research interests of students and has received a number of grants in recognition of her dedication to undergraduate mentoring. She teaches courses on music theory, philosophical approaches to music, and transdisciplinary sound studies. A recent graduate seminar on Cities & Sound, co-taught with Francesca Ammon, Assistant Professor in City Planning and Historic Preservation, and sponsored by the Mellon H+U+D Initiative, brought together students from a wide range of disciplines from across PennDesign as well as the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Waltham-Smith holds a PhD from King’s College London (2009) where she also completed her Master’s. She graduated with a double First from Selwyn College, Cambridge in 2003 before taking up the DAAD Kurt Hahn Research Scholarship at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg. Before coming to Penn she taught at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London, and held post-doctoral positions at City University and Indiana University.  

Selected Publications:

“The Time it Takes to Listen,” Music Theory Spectrum 38/2 (2017) [forthcoming].

“Form and Repetition: Deleuze, Guillaume and Sonata Theory,” Music Analysis 36/1 (2017) [forthcoming].

“The Sound of the Outside,” boundary 2 43/1 (2016), 75–105. 

“Rethinking Difference and Community in Parsifal,” Opera Quarterly 29/3–4 (2013): 355–360.

“Badiou contra Badiou,” Current Musicology 94 (2012): 143–164.

“Sequence,” in The Oxford Handbook of Concepts in Music Theory, ed. Alexander Rehding and Steven Rings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

“Deconstruction,” in The Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy, ed. Jerold Levinson, Nanette Nielsen and Tomas McCauley (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).