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Listening Network: Cultures of Listening in Research and Practice

In recent years the idea/concept of listening has begun to feature prominently at the intersection of social sciences, arts and humanities based research. At the same time theorising has remained disparate and exciting synergies between work in different disciplines, and its relevance to for example political- social-, legal- and research practice, have not been explored systematically.

This website offers a meeting point to facilitate such exploration by bringing together a growing network of researchers and practitioners from interdisciplinary backgrounds, including Art, Childhood Studies, Law, Education, Sociology, Geography, Social Work, Critical Theory, Literary Studies, Modern Languages, Philosophy, Politics, Music, Critical-, Social-, and Forensic Psychology.

The aim of this network is to link academics and practitioners from different disciplines and professional backgrounds who share an interest in listening, including:

  • experiences and circumstances of listening
  • listening as empowerment or exclusion
  • listening as active and risky
  • theories of listening
  • discourses and practices of listening
  • subversive and oppressive potentials of listening as a concept and/or practice
  • innovative creative methodologies to research and negotiate listening

The term ‘Cultures of Listening’ (Motzkau & Lesnik-Oberstein in prep) captures the idea that listening is more than the exposure to, or taking in of, auditory information/signals; rather listening implies and demands

  • continuous selection, ordering and interpretation;
  • decisions on what to do with what is heard, e.g. how to act on it, record or share it;
  • instant consideration (implicit or explicit) of risks and consequences (as anticipated and experienced) associated with what we do with what we hear;

Exploring the relationship between listening, discourse and power is key here. Following Bonnet (2016) we propose that listening is the capture of sound within discourse via the trace it leaves, i.e. via the resonance it creates. Authority and power are then exercised through such discourses that determine what resonates, or can be heard, who is listening, and thus crucially, what is allowed to speak in listening. Yet, resonances are by definition temporary, relational and emergent phenomena.

Expressing this in terms of ‘Cultures of Listening’ allows consideration of the dominant discourses and practices that frame and determine possible modes of listening (and at whose cost they operate), while at the same time appreciating that listening is contingent on social-, cultural- and personal/experiential factors that interrelate, i.e. resonate, in the specific instants listening occurs.

Focusing on such instants highlights that cultures of listening are at once powerful frameworks and continuously emergent relational practices, thus subject to constant re-creation and transformation. For this reason relational process theory (Whitehead, Deleuze) is an important resource for a number of those linked into this network.

In this sense we suggest that exploring listening always implies a political sensitivity. Simone Bignall (network member) captures this poignantly when commenting that an interest in listening comes with “an understanding that politics is essentially about what Deleuze would call making inaudible forces audible, so making an effort to hear what can’t be made sense of in conventional terms.” That is, to make audible and transform Cultures of Listening.