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Policing Criminal Soundscapes in Nineteenth-Century Iranian Cities
The sonic constitutes a neglected medium for understanding crime in the Iranian urban landscape of the nineteenth century. Utilizing an array of sources, including newspapers, police and government reports, diaries, and memoirs, this paper employs "earwitness" accounts to elucidate how certain sounds—such as entertainment music, merriment and partying, and loud yelling and screaming—became synonymous with the moral crimes of performing and listening to immoral music, alcohol consumption, and/or prohibited gender mixing and prostitution. On the one hand, strong privacy norms prevailed in Qajar society, which acted as a bulwark against overzealous policing of illicit sounds emanating from a domestic residence. On the other hand, sounds were rarely contained in the domestic realm, especially in the dense urban fabric of many neighborhoods. When sound spilled out into the streets or reached the ears of the disproving, several groups became potentially involved in the moral policing of illicit sounds. Neighbors either complained to the authorities about noise disturbances or took matters into their own hands by confronting perceived offenders. Similarly, those associated with the ulama, especially seminarians and sayyids, regularly raided homes on the grounds that aural evidence indicated illicit activities inside. Finally, police patrols followed sonic signs to pursue those suspected of having violated the law.
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