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Nick Couldry “Why Voice Matters”

Couldry, Nick 2010. Why Voice Matters. Culture and Politics after Neoliberalism. Sage Publications

 

Voice as value

[…] voice as a process (already relatively familiar) and voice as a value. […] By voice as a value, I shall refer to the act of valuing, and choosing to value, those frameworks for organizing human life and resources that themselves value voice (as a process). Treating voice as a value means discriminating in favour of ways of organizing human life and resources that, through their choices, put the value of voice into practice, by respecting the multiple interlinked processes of voice and sustaining them, not undermining or denying them. (2)

[…] first, there is the primary process of voice, the act of giving an account of oneself, and the immediate conditions and qualities of that process […]; then there is the ‘second order’ value of voice (the commitment to voice that matters) which is defended throughout; third, there is the work connecting the value of voice to the other normative frameworks and uncovering their implicit appeal to a notion of voice […]; and finally, there is the work of uncovering the processes which obstruct voice, what Judith Butler calls the ‘materialization’ which allows some types of voice to emerge as possible and others as not […], and reflecting on how those processes might be resisted. (3)

The nature of social and political organization under neoliberalism requires us to focus on how the bare preconditions of speech are being challenged (a parallel with Giorgio Agamben’s work on ‘bare life’), and to reaffirm the need to meet those basic conditions of possibility. (4)

The fundamental term in neoliberalism’s reduction of the world is ‘market’: neoliberalism presents the social world as  made up of markets, and spaces of potential competition that need to be organized as markets, blocking other narratives from view. (6)

1)      Voice is socially grounded. Voice is not the practice of individuals in isolation. (7)

2)      Voice is a form of reflexive agency. […] the act of voice involves taking responsibility for the stories one tells, just as our actions more generally, as Hannah Arendt argues, ‘disclose’ us ‘as subjects’. (8)

3)      Voice is an embodied process. […] For voice is the process of articulating the world from a distinctive embodied position. (8)

4)      Voice requires material form which may be individual, collective or distributed. […] The material form of the voice cannot, in any case, be exclusively individual: we do not generate the means by which we narrate, we emerge as subjects into a narrative form. So ‘voice’ as a value does not involve individualism […] or disregarding the importance of collective forms of action. Defending voice as a value simply means the potential of voices anywhere to matter. (9)

5)      Voice is undermined by rationalities which take no account of voice and by practices that exclude voice or undermine forms of its expression. […] Let’s call a narrative of this sort a voice-denying rationality. (10)

Market functioning does not require the exchange of narratives between reflexive, embodied agents; but voice does. Voice in our sense is what economists would call an externality of market functioning. (11)

The crisis of neoliberal economics

‘Neoliberalism proper’ […] is the principle that market functioning is the privileged reference-point for organizing how governments – indeed, all modes of social organization – must operate. (23)

The introduction and sustaining of market principles of competition becomes, in this way, the reference-point for judging not just government operations, but also for evaluating the social domain as a whole. (26)

It is significant in this context that the pressure towards ‘commodifying the human’ inherent to a connexionist world is now being developed into practices of self-promotion and ‘self-branding’ that, as Sarah Banet-Weiser shows, ally the entrepreneurial vision of the self to the neoliberal value of freedom. The result is an apparent expansion of ‘voice’ as cover for the increasing penetration of market values in to the space of self. (34)

Neoliberal democracy: an oxymoron

[…] whatever other name we give it, ‘democracy’ operated on neoliberal principles is not democracy. For it has abandoned, as unnecessary, a vision of democracy as a form of social organization in which government’s legitimacy is measured by the degree to which it takes account of its citizens’ particular voices. […] Neoliberal democracy is not a version of democracy at all, but an example of how a particular illusion of democracy can be sustained. […] Neoliberalism, in Colin Crouch’s succinct phrase, risks installing an era of ‘post-democracy’. (64)

Media and the amplification of neoliberal values

The surveillant audience (employer) wants assurance that the performance’s features will be reproduced beyond the (necessarily limited) moment of active surveillance. This is where deep acting, based on internalized performance norms, becomes a necessary value, not an optional extra. (76)

[…] the ‘as if’ of reality TV tracks with striking fidelity the dynamics of the contemporary workplace: it is a place of compulsory self-staging, required teamwork via equally unquestionable norms or ‘values’, to which the worker/player must submit in a ‘positive’, even ‘passionate’ embrace, while enduring, alone, the long-term consequences of the ‘game’. (78)

UK reality TV, then, offers a culture of judgement: judgements meted out on particular bodies in front of large, unseen audiences. This emphasis on judgement distinguishes recent reality TV from the longer history of media-based instruction and lifestyle presentation, but also fits it more widely with the culture of management surveillance and self-disciplining in neoliberal workplaces and governance. (81)

First, the very different time-cycles of politics and media tend to merge. In principle, politics […] requires an ‘extended time-horizon’, whereas both the technological capacities and the economic dynamics of media tend towards an ever-accelerated cycle of news production and the exchange of news as commodity. The conflict is ‘resolved’ by political time increasingly mimicking, indeed becoming virtually identical to, media time. […] Instead of the political future remaining open for as yet undetermined deliberation, the future is swallowed up in the needs of the present. (83)

Second, the context and boundaries of politics are transformed by this intense symbiosis of media and politics. […] What if the workings of the media/politics cycle themselves, far from increasing politics’ accountability via media to voters, favour a shift away from political deliberation and towards what Theda Skocpol calls politics as ‘management’, or even worse a more violent ‘preemptive politics’ based on the manipulation of fear? (84)

The loss of a wider deliberative language for politics may be neoliberal democracy’s most far-reaching legacy. Government by targets, far from repairing, actualizes neoliberalism’s failure to provide a working model for democracy. The result is a political perpetuum mobile running on at great speed, but with few reference-points, whether from past, present or future, to interrupt its futility. (86)

Philosophies of voice

The multiplicity of possible identifications is not the point. The interesting question is why the act of telling one’s story in public (so that it can be heard, and this fact in turn be registered) should be the act that constitutes recognition. The answer cannot be that a particular state (or states, in general) require it, since the TRC was a political innovation of global significance. The answer must be that giving an account of oneself for exchange in the world in which one acts is a basic feature of what we humans do as humans, and so a possible starting-point for recognizing someone as a political subject. (109)

Sociologies of voice

‘Identity’ and ‘subjectivity’ relate more directly to the terrain we have called ‘voice’; ‘identity’ to the process of ‘express[ing] oneself … through essential identities and stable oppositions’ and ‘subjectivity’, by contrast, to the less socially oriented struggle to defend an autonomous space of individual action. It is clear that the process of ‘voice’ crosses both: it is both the an attempt to achieve a satisfying narrative that fills the gaps social narratives leave unfulfilled and the carving out of an exclusive space of personal reflection. (116)

[…] our practices of recognition (an so our practices of voice) are limited by the histories of the spaces where we find ourselves: the histories of others’ struggles of recognition before us, the history of our own struggle to be recognized by contrast to particular others. Spaces for voice are therefore inherently spaces of power; their link to power does not just derive from institutions such as government seeking to manage them. So a sociological approach to voice can never just be based on a celebration of people speaking or telling stories: it must be placed in a sociological context […] We need to grasp the long history of materialization (the hidden evaluations) that has gone on before someone speaks or falls silent. (130 – my emphasis)

Sociologies of voice, then, involve both a practice of recognition (listening to others’ voices, registering them as important) and a realistic analysis of the obstructions to recognition, even at times when we are told we have a voice, we can reinvent ourselves, we can be heard. (131-132)

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