Volume 5, 2007
Democracy, Racism, and Prisons
The Radical Potential of Listening
A Preliminary Exploration
In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argues that free speech possesses value because listening is valuable: it can advance one’s own thinking and action. However, listening becomes difficult when one finds the views of a speaker to be wrong, repellant, or even simply naïve. Everyday wisdom would have it that such cases present the greatest opportunities for growth. Is there substance to this claim? In particular, is there radical political value to be found in listening to others at the very times one is most disinclined to do so? I contend that there is. This paper explores the political potential of what I call “radical listening.” What characterizes radical listening? How can it serve politically transformative purposes? To what extent are the powers of radical listening strategic, and to what extent is it valuable
for more conceptual reasons? Under what circumstances is it appropriate? What are the limits to, and dangers of, radical listening?