The politics of listening

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The politics of listening

A workshop with Miriyam Aouragh and Seda Guerses

For our second round of approaching the conversations, we applied Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), again only involving companions that had been part of the conversations to begin with. As a way to decolonize our listening practice, Miriyam proposed a set of questions to ask while listening. This reflective methodology or reflexive ethnography was based on questioning the self, its power relations, its expectations and biases.

The “politics of listening” workshop was an inductive process of bottom-up interpretation, through making a socio-semantic inventory. Taking que from Decolonial Methodology, we felt that doing the research entails to give back to the phenomena or communities we study, which means that we not only take into account who pays for this research but also what purposes the research serves.

Our engagement with Decolonial Methodology was manifested in the way we designed the workshops, which themselves are entrenched in an ethical relationship between the researchers and researched. Our approach assumed accountability and therefore the research project had to involve reflection and reflexive writing which takes into account our own positionalities and biases. In this workshop we particularly played with the intersection between language and power, proposing to experiment with relation our own communications to politics. A politics of representation and the influence of subtext can come together in many ways, but few are as comprehensive for methodological interpretation as CDA.

CDA as a methodology emerged as an anti-racist method to delineate the discursive practices and linguistic features that construct the representation of social actors. We used its basic tools to apply it as a form of critical listening because CDA goes beyond classifying words and calculating common features. Instead the C = critical explicitly refers to its non-neutral agenda, which is meant to contribute to the change of a social reality by uncovering (with the intention of undoing) gendered/racialised/economic power relations and mind-sets:

  • Gender/race/disability are predominantly assigned passive roles, but besides white/male/abled/middle class, also technology is ascribed with active disposition;
  • Analysis about technological progress mostly foregrounds structure over agency, and machines over humans
  • The moral framework or ethical scaffolding of a conversation can become clear when we unearth who are the most represented or the predominantly invisibilized actors in the discourse/writings/recordings.

It became clear that the speech pattern of circularity and friction was a way to hold together the conflicts and contradictions, and that this was part of understanding struggle. It made us wonder how to hold the concepts in relation to the experience that were being described, which feels necessary to then have an analysis of tactics and practice. We also discussed the implied linearity of the analysis, going from recording to transcript to memory, and how this might reinstate the figure of the expert interpreter after the fact.

An exercise in Critical Discourse Analysis

A collective exercise in critical reflexive decolonial orientations in listening. The exercise requires ca. two and a half hours, including a short break.

1. Split up in small groups (two or three people) and choose a conversation you would like to work with, and a channel to communicate.

2. Compile a list of terms that you think will appear in the conversation you are about to analyse. These can be common/expected/remembered terms. For example: infrastructure/technology, resistance/protest/activist, space/place, state, reactionary, capitalism/neoliberalism, racist/racism, funding/finance/money, ability/disability/ableism, feelings. (10m)

3. Search and listen: use transcriptions (e.g., search through the text) and recordings as a way to locate the moment that these concepts and themes occur, and select one or two moments where the concepts are discussed during the interview. (30m)

4. Ask how these concepts were communicated in the conversation (30m):

  • How is the concept valorised or qualified (.... is shit):
    • positive/negative
    • hopeful-optimistic/hopeless-pessimistic
    • accepted/rejected ...
  • What is their temporality (in past present or future tense?)
  • Can you detect a speaking pattern (hesitant, circular, trailing, in-out?)
  • How is it spoken about (your own criteria for listening):
    • silence/void
    • agitated/enthusiasm
    • ...

5. Compare notes between groups. (20m)

6. Look at other conversations for similar concepts and redo the analysis with both conversation in mind. (20m)

7. Social analysis: Frame what you found in discussion with other groups; consider the infrastructural, political, economic context of what is said/claimed/proposed. (30m)