“Cult objects”: Headphones


Inanimate objects, do you have a soul? asked the poet.

If they have a soul, it is ours. This is what the semiologist Roland Barthes demonstrated in his Mythologies , published in 1957. The intellectual indeed studied there the objects and the popular rites which revealed the spirit of an era and the collective affects of the country, thus inventing a new way of doing sociology, accessible, impertinent and playful. The DS, the steak and fries, the plastic toys… nothing escaped his sagacity.

Today, these objects are no longer the same and globalization has greatly changed the situation. But the exercise has not aged a bit and it is Pascal Lardellier, professor of sociology at the University of Burgundy, author among others of Our modes, our myths, our rites who looks at our cult objects.

With the mobile phone, nothing better signals the era of a photo or a film than the design of headphones – even if the fashion for vintage headphones can confuse the issue. With the appearance, at the dawn of the 2000s, of the mp3, and the miniaturization that it allows, portable music has become the new norm, and has popularized a certain idea of ​​”cool”, in particular through the campaigns of Apple pub, which have become legendary.

A celebration of individual originality and, at the same time, of belonging to a community, the mp3 player has revolutionized the way music is consumed. Then the smartphone invaded the market (first iPhone: 2007), making us available at all times and the target of very easily accessible audiovisual content. The function of the helmet was then considerably expanded, from listening to music to a thousand other possibilities, recreational or professional.

More recently, the boom in podcasts – and to a lesser extent that of audiobooks – has come to change behaviors again, with a new type of stream to listen to anywhere and anytime.

In the street, in transport, we meet our fellow human beings, wireless headphones screwed on their ears or bluetooth headsets sticking out of their earbuds, making them look like cyborgs. We don’t know what they’re listening to, or even if they’re listening to anything. They are there and they are elsewhere.

Author Bio: Pascal Lardellier is Professor at the University of Burgundy France-Comté, Researcher at Propedia (IGS Group, Paris), University of Burgundy Franche-Comté (UBFC)