In August 2017 we brought together members of the network for a symposium at the biannual conference of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP) in Tokyo, Japan. Due to technical difficulties we were not able to record the symposium but below you find the abstracts. The presentation on the ‘Excolonial Politics of Listening’ by Dr Simone Bignall and Dr Bindi McGill is however available on youtube. This presentation was pre-recorded as Simone and Bindi could not attend the conference in person.
Cultures of Listening: Exploring the emancipatory potential of listening in law, child protection, remembrance and excolonial politics
There is a long tradition in feminist- critical psychology of problematizing concepts of ‘voice’ that imply ‘hearing’ as unproblematic and passive, and thereby obscure the inherent complexity/ambiguity of speaking and listening (e.g. Henriques et al 1984; Steadman et al 1985). Yet such critique is increasingly overshadowed by recent political discourses about ‘voice’ and ‘agency’, while ‘listening’ itself has been neglected. This symposium theorizes listening as pivotal for emancipatory practices emerging from within, or vis a vis, dominant institutions/discourses.
The concept of ‘cultures of listening’ is based on the proposition that while hearing encompasses anything perceived through auditory signals, listening involves active attention, ordering, interpretation and action. In this sense listening is not just about what we hear, but also about how we understand, remember, record, share and enact it. Listening is shaped by- and expresses the circumstances, i.e. cultures, that frame it. Exploring ‘cultures of listening’ for us means to study listening as process (Whitehead), as something that takes shape relationally and instantaneously, that is at once social/political and personal/experiential; but that is also emergent, transformative, and thus resonant with feminist theorizing around notions of resistance, care, attentiveness and attunement (e.g. Stengers, Haraway).
The symposium examines practices and cultures of listening via diverse creative methods and settings: South Australian aboriginal peoples’ struggle for sovereign speaking/listening, practices of remembrance and reconciliation, listening in family court, and in child protection practices. We suggest that theorizing listening and exploring its cultures, contributes to critical theorizing and practice in psychology and beyond.
Presenter 1: Dr Kyoko Murakami (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Relational practice of listening: Empathy for collective remembering
Much research on collective remembering and commemoration has focused on how accounts of events and people were remembered by interlocutors during talk in interaction. Such work examines the discursive production of accounts, or the practices of accountability used in relation to what is remembered. It tends to assume the role of listening, especially the addressee’s role in the conversation, as given, as if it was insignificant. In this presentation, I will discuss how interlocutors engage in the act of listening in sensitive conversations, when contentious claims about past events and people are put forward, negotiated, contested and reformulated. In doing so, I would like to argue that listening is a relational practice for achieving empathy between the interlocutors; it is not merely cognitive, more than agreeing (or disagreeing) with the account, but it is about how the interlocutors relationally position themselves to relate to the claims and contentious issues as the conversation unfolds. I will consider two issues: (1) how the act of listening is configured as emergent empathy, (2) how the act of listening is linked to the phenomenological issues of attunement, taking care, and the interlocutors’ being-in-the world (Heidegger). I will explore these using examples of reconciliation talk (Murakami, 2012) and of tea ceremony as dialogic practice (Murakami, in press). This presentation is aimed at extending and re-specifying ‘cultures of listening’, and to consider the act of listening as a viable art in the practices of reconciliation and commemoration.
An ‘excolonial’ politics of listening
Aboriginal peoples often understand their sovereignty as the power to materialise positive relational values for ecological benefit. This paper outlines how, in Southern Australia, this constitutive understanding of sovereignty lies at the heart of the Ngarrindjeri peoples’ program of ‘Speaking as Country’, through which they manage contemporary political negotiations with settler-colonial powers. In the context of a devastating drought and ongoing colonial policies that erase Indigenous agency and treat Ngarrindjeri as formally ‘extinct’, Ngarrindjeri leaders and Elders began a programme of Indigenous Nation re-building in order to better advocate for Country and protect their lands and waters and associated life forms from further injury. The Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe (Sea-Country) Plan, and the vision it expresses, acts as the foundation for a range of formal procedures established by the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to guide the negotiated inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in social governance and natural resource management. In particular, Ngarrindjeri have made innovative use of legally binding accords called ‘Kungun Ngarrindjeri Yunnan Agreements’ (KNY- Listen to Ngarrindjeri people Speaking), co-signed with the South Australian Government and other regional authorities. These agreements recognise Ngarrindjeri have a continuing authority to govern matters within their National jurisdiction. They commit parties mutually to respectful terms of negotiation over matters of common concern, and are designed to protect Indigenous knowledge, values and interests in a context where the process of colonisation has typically excluded them. In this way, they contribute to ‘excolonialism’ as a mode of engagement that refuses colonialist institutions.
Presenter 3: Dr Sara Ramshaw (University of Exeter, UK)
Judicial Listening in the Family Law Setting: Practice as Process
[I]t is a key task for any judge to not just listen, but to convey the fact to the person that they have been listened to, and, in my own experience in the family court, I think it is an absolute priority that the vulnerable parents are made to feel that they matter, that they are treated with dignity and respect … .
- Her Honour Judge Patricia Smyth, Northern Ireland County Court
What does it mean to listen deeply and attentively in family law proceedings – especially applications for care orders/custody/adoption – and how can this practice be conveyed to litigants in the courtroom? Applying ‘process ontology’ to judicial listening practices in the family court, this paper discusses the importance of recognising that being is dynamic and that we experience our world and ourselves as continually changing. According to relational process theory, knowledge is formed through acts of receptivity and listening. Thus, judicial listening practices, as with arts-based improvisatory ones, must always be relational and ongoing. Family justice can never be fixed or static; it must be responsive to changing social conditions and to the singularity of the situation. Framing judicial practices of listening as process thereby opens up new perspectives towards conceptions of agency and change (Motzkau, 2011), both within the legal system and in society more generally, and to new possibilities for justice in the family law setting.
Presenter 4: Dr Johanna Motzkau (The Open University, UK)
Cultures of Listening in Child Protection: Dark listening as relational agency
Child protection in the UK has been in crisis for decades. Recent high profile cases of failure have sparked intense criticism of social workers’ and police officers’ apparent failure to listen to children/families, and to communicate with colleagues.
This paper draws on a research project (‘Cultures of Listening in Child Protection’), based on the idea that child protection agencies have different practices and values that influence how their workers listen. Listening means not just how they hear, but also how they understand-, record and share information when working with families/children, colleagues/other agencies. While such ‘cultures’ are framed by policy, they are also shaped continually by workers’ experience of practicing in the current context of perpetual crisis and reform, severe austerity measures, and polarized public debate. The research participants (social workers/police) self-record audio diaries, reporting on their day-to-day experience of listening to children/families/colleagues. Excerpts from these diaries are turned into audio-collages, which are then listened to and discussed by participants in listening workshops.
The methodology (researching-practice-as-process) draws on process theory and the analysis develops in relation to feminist concepts of care. Extending this theoretical lineage, the paper will show how, by exploring musical concepts of improvisation and attuned listening (Ramshaw), and the artistic practice of dark listening (Greenlaw, 2011) alongside child protection practices, processes of ‘listening’ can be understood as creative acts of relational agency. They comprise emergent dynamics of resistance and transformation that can be used to challenge dominant discourses, and institutional practices, around credibility, truth and evidence.
Discussant: Prof Mandy Morgan (Massey University, New Zealand)