Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Politics of Listening: Possibilities and Challenges for Democratic Life

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Politics of Listening: Possibilities and Challenges for Democratic Life

Article excerpt

Leah Bassel 2017 The Politics of Listening: Possibilities and Challenges for Democratic Life, Palgrave Macmillan UK. ISBN 978-1-137-53166-7.

Attention to listening is often eschewed in favour of the more academically popular concept of voice. But, much like the ill-fated tree in the forest, what good is voice if there's no-one to listen? The Politics of Listening shifts attention away from voice and towards the less-explored concept of listening. In exploration of the micropolitics of listening, Leah Bassel investigates whose voices are silenced or ignored, and questions the political attitudes and environments that allow this.

In this short yet illuminating book, Bassel builds on the work of influential authors, most notably Susan Bickford and Nick Couldry, to ground the abstract concept of listening through topical case studies. The book provides a whirlwind introduction to exploring how the politics of listening impacts who and what is given an audience in the public sphere. Exploring examples from Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, Bassel's focus is on those whose voices are politically excluded by being silenced, ignored, or confined by narrow stereotypes, particularly migrants, indigenous people, and other marginalised communities.

The book explores several cases that illustrate how a micropolitics of listening can identify 'Us' versus 'Them' dichotomies in media and political representation. Bassel discusses the challenges of representation that face some marginalised groups. The first case study that Bassel explores is the struggles of minority women, most visibly Muslim women, to speak outside of the audible positions of "victim" or "entrepreneur". Tellingly, the title of that particular chapter is a quote from an interview: "They only listen when we bash our culture". This case study is an excellent introduction to the concept of political listening, as it clearly demonstrates how the voices of these women are either pigeon-holed or completely ignored.

The second case explores two examples when young, racialised men have acted out against the state in an effort to be politically heard. Bassel discusses both the Tottenham riots in the UK, and the suburban unrest in France in 2005. In both instances, class and race barriers were used to silence the political voices of those involved, reducing the space for listening. …

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