Listening for Noise in Political Thought

Main Article Content

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.

Article Details

On Noise (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University

Bruce Buchan is a political theorist with an interest in the historical uses and transformations of political concepts. He is currently working on a project on the history of discourse on asymmetric warfare in the eighteenth century, supported by an ARC Future Fellowship. This project builds on research in his previous book, The Empire of Political Thought: Indigenous Australians and the Language of Colonial Government (2008). In addition, Bruce is completing a jointly authored monograph on the conceptual history of corruption and in 2011 co-edited an issue of Cultural Studies Review titled ‘The Death Scene’. With Peter Denney, David Ellison, John Barrell and Harriet Guest, he has recently been awarded an ARC collaborative grant for a project titled 'Policing Noise: The Sounds of Civility in British Discourse, c. 1700–1850'