Date: Jun 5 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location: SWING 310
Chair/Président/Présidente : Anna Drake (University of Waterloo)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Anna Drake (University of Waterloo)
Enclave Deliberations in the Public — Doublespeak and Dog Whistles in the Digital Age: Afsoun Afsahi (University of Amsterdam) Abstract: This paper examines the influence of digital enclaves––online networks of in-group communication—on the norms of receptivity and justification that ground democratic modes of discourse in the public sphere.
This paper divides digital enclaves into three categories: first, groups for which the online network of in-group communication serves as space of empowerment that reinforces democratic norms and promotes participation within in the public sphere (e.g. feminist and LGBTQ webspaces); second, enclaves as spaces of creation of language, keywords, memes, and references exclusive to group members. These engender members to withdraw from democratic modes of participation (e.g. InCel groups); third, enclaves that promote engagement with the public at large through use of doublespeak and “dog whistles”. Members and sympathizers of these groups operationalize speech acts that are intended to and will be interpreted differently by different groups (e.g. white supremacist groups).
I argue that the last group poses the greatest threat to deliberation and democracy.
Building on the core assumptions of deliberative democracy and justificatory politics, I emphasize the dual tasks of listening and justification as necessary for a functioning democracy and a healthy public sphere. Dog whistles and doublespeak create conditions that make it difficult—if not impossible—to ground demands justification. This form of the speech deflects demands for justification because the speaker can always claim ignorance or to have been misinterpreted.
To conclude, I examine the implications of digital enclaves for our ability to judge the quality of speech in the public sphere; and offer strategies for counteracting their effect.
A Laughing Matter? Considering the Democratic Value of Comedy: Simon Lambek (University of Toronto) Abstract: In a 2014 episode of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver hosted “a statistically representative climate change debate.” The “debate,” which featured 96 scientists (and Bill Nye the Science Guy) talking over 3 climate change deniers, clearly lacked deliberative quality, a fair exchange of ideas or even an opportunity for agonstic contest. Indeed, different opinions were rendered inaudible over the cacophony of 100 participants speaking at once. In this article, I look at the power of comedy to alter interpretive horizons and prompt moments of reflective judgment in political life. I argue that these kinds of comedic performances can have positive effects on democratic debate, rhetorical exchange and democratic will formation. Drawing on examples from antiquity (Aristophanes), the 20th century (The Marx Brothers) and the 21st century (Last Week Tonight), I consider how democratic theory might treat performances where comedy is employed in ways that may not conform to the normative expectations of democratic theories. Attending to the rhetorical dimension of comedy, I focus on comedy’s transformative potential to both shift ideas and the ways ideas fit together. I also point to comedy’s potential to strengthen and sustain the common world through exposing audiences to what is otherwise difficult to discuss or reflect upon. The article concludes by addressing the problem of echo chambers and considers comedy’s potential to bridge or “fuse” disparate discursive horizons.
Can “Radical Democratic Citizenship” Be Institutionalized?: Warren Magnusson (University of Victoria) Abstract: In On Revolution (1961), Hannah Arendt wrestled with the problem of institutionalizing the popular assemblies formed when the “part that has no part” (Rancière 1999) claims its democratic rights. Must such assemblies – such as the ones that excited people in 2011, 1968, 1917, or 1789 – be ephemeral: moments of democratic insurgency that come and go, often to be followed by more rigorous repression? Or, is democracy in its fullest sense actually a possibility for which we have models in the assemblies of ancient Athens or the early town meetings of New England? Arendt herself seems to have torn between believing in the possibility of institutionalization and doubting its likelihood. In this paper, I juxtapose her analysis with more recent ones that grapple with the same issues in light of experiences over the last half-century. I will argue that the tendency to associate radical democracy with revolutionary insurgency obscures the possibilities for more mundane self-government. “After the revolution,” be it a success or failure, people still have to deal with their mundane problems, and the effort to do so, through localized practices of self-government, can be satisfying, liberating, enlightening, and civilizing in the best sense. If the hostilities that lead to revolutionary turmoil, or are excited by it, are not to shape our politics – when they do, we can expect some form of fascism – then we must find ways to come together democratically. The best possibilities for this have always been highly localized.
Economic Citizenship for Precarious Workers: Michael Sullivan (St. Mary's University) Abstract: Today, immigrant women and men toiling with their citizen colleagues in insecure employment that Guy Standing (2016) describes as the post-industrial precariat make up the vanguard of the struggle to protect labor rights. In this paper, I argue that immigrant participants in the labor movement are acting as exemplary citizens motivated by a factor beyond self-interest—the well-being of workers in mixed-citizenship communities where they have laid down roots. My focus here is on how immigrants are acting as participatory citizens in the workplace. Their exemplary citizenship is expressed in their willingness to assume the risks that come with labor organizing, including wage losses, termination of employment and threats of deportation, for the benefit of a mixed-citizenship status community of workers. In the process, they are overcoming the racial, gender, occupational, and national origins exclusions of traditional “business unions,” which only recently included immigrants and care workers in their ranks. The aim throughout this paper is to refine ideas about industrial participatory citizenship set forth by earlier theorists including T.H. Marshall, Harry Arthurs, and Judith Skhlar to construct a new normative ideal about the rights and obligations of labor citizenship across a wider range of occupations, including unpaid care work.