A Decolonizing Ear: Documentary Film Disrupts the Archive

February 26, 2024

Olivia Landry
Olivia Landry

Meet VCU Authors: Olivia Landry, PhD

Start time: 12:00 p.m.

End time: 1:00 p.m

Location: Virtual

Registration will be available soon.


The recording of Indigenous voices is one of the most well-known methods of colonial ethnography. In A Decolonizing Ear, Olivia Landry offers a skeptical account of listening as a highly mediated and extractive act, influenced by technology and ideology. Returning to early ethnographic practices of voice recording and archiving at the turn of the twentieth century, with a particular focus on the German paradigm, she reveals the entanglement of listening in the logic of Euro-American empire and the ways in which contemporary films can destabilize the history of colonial sound reproduction.

Landry provides close readings of several disparate documentary films from the late 1990s and the early 2000s. The book pays attention to technology and knowledge production to examine how these films employ recordings plucked from different colonial sound archives and disrupt their purposes. Drawing on film and documentary studies, sound studies, German studies, archival studies, postcolonial studies, and media history, A Decolonizing Ear develops a method of decolonizing listening from the insights provided by the films themselves.

About the Speaker

Olivia Landry's research broadly spans film and media as well as theater and performance studies. Her first book, Movement and Performance in Berlin School Cinema (2019), explores the contemporary film movement the Berlin School through a recalibration of the body, movement, spectacle, sensation, and spectatorship in cinema. Her second book, Theatre of Anger: Radical Transnational Performance in Contemporary Berlin (2020), examines contemporary transnational theater in Berlin through the affective-political scope of anger as an attributed and justified affect that responds to social injustice. This book presents a return to political theater and a rethinking of the novel ways in which art and resistance intersect. Her latest book, A Decolonizing Ear: Documentary Film Disrupts the Archive (2022), investigates how documentary film can challenge conventions of listening and recording shaped by histories of colonial ethnography and extraction.

From 2014 to 2016, she was a Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. After that, she spent a year at Stanford University as the William H. Bonsall Acting Assistant Professor of German. Between 2017 and 2022, she was an assistant professor at Lehigh University. Her research has been supported by grants from SSHRCC, DAAD, and the Humboldt Foundation.