The politics, science, and art of receptivity

Ethics and Global Politics 7 (1):19-40 (2014)
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Abstract

With so much attention on the issue of voice in democratic theory, the inverse question of how people come to listen remains a marginal one. Recent scholarship in affect and neuroscience reveals that cognitive and verbal strategies, while privileged in democratic politics, are often insufficient to cultivate the receptivity that constitutes the most basic premise of democratic encounters. This article draws on this scholarship and a recent case of forum theatre to examine the conditions of receptivity and responsiveness, and identify specific strategies that foster such conditions. It argues that the forms of encounter most effective in cultivating receptivity are those that move us via affective intensity within pointedly mediated contexts. It is this constellation of strategies—this strange marriage of immersion and mediation—that enabled this performance to surface latent memory, affect and bias, unsettle entrenched patterns of thought and behaviour, and provide the conditions for revisability. This case makes clear that to lie beyond the domain of cognitive and verbal processes is not to lie beyond potential intervention, and offers insight to how such receptivity might be achieved in political processes more broadly

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