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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 30, 2014


William W. Young III
Pages 161-174

Listening and Obedience in the Political Realm

Listening has received renewed attention in recent political philosophy. A central question in considering the modes of listening appropriate to democratic politics is their relationship to obedience. This paper develops an account of democratic listening, and its contrast with obedience, through the work of Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault. Adorno’s analysis of the technological imposition of obedience on modern patterns of listening, and Foucault’s account of obedience as central to the rise of modern governmentality, both help to reflect upon the operation of obedience in the contemporary political realm. It further examines the modes of listening which they offer as a counterpoint to obedience—Adorno’s musical listening and Foucault’s listening, which undergirds the care of the self. However, while both authors offer alternative modes of listening as part of their cultivation of a politics of resistance, this essay argues that democratic listening must go beyond their conceptions, offering a more affective, pluralized, and improvisational listening which enables responsive solidarity rather than individual liberation.

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