Listening for Noise in Political Thought

Bruce Buchan


The acoustic dimension of political philosophy has rarely attracted serious attention, in part because scholars have tended to assume that political theories, ideas, and concepts, exist as abstract entities that are often noiselessly communicated in written texts. And yet, the noisy communication of political ideas whether in the form of Socratic dialogues, Churchillian orations, or in the hushed tones of focus group conversations treasured by deliberative democrats today, has a rich political history and a continuing relevance. This paper will focus on five performative modes for the communication of political ideas: the monologue, the dialogue, the oration, the interjection, and the noisy crowd. While this list may not be exhaustive, it will be used here as a starting point for further exploration. I will contend that in each of these performative modes, the communication of political ideas is framed by the noise of actual, or textually imagined kinds of political speech designed to underscore the validity of the ideas conveyed. One of the most important reasons for traversing this variable performative and acoustic terrain today is to enable us to hear and to listen to political speech amid the potentially polluting hum of political white noise.


Political thought, noise, speech, listening, hearing

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