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Listening overlooked: rethinking media in the public sphere

posted on 2023-06-08, 05:28 authored by Kate LaceyKate Lacey
Since the late nineteenth century, the recording, manipulation and transmission of sound have opened up the possibility of new industries, new prospects for commodification, new artistic practices, new cultures of listening, new subjectivities and, not least, new publics. The idea of `the listening public that emerged with the infant sound media has tended to be associated with the text or medium listened to, not carrying with it any particular connotations of critical practice. This paper will challenge such a restricted understanding of the audience. It will examine the discursive construction of the listening public in relation to the ongoing transformation of communications media, and will argue the case for taking listening as a critical category in thinking not just about radio and other auditory media, but about the public sphere more broadly. In short, the ambition is to amplify the specifically auditory roots of the word `audience, a word that combines the experiential with the public aspect of mediated culture. The paper will argue that there is an analytical distinction to be made between `listening out as an attentive and anticipatory communicative disposition and `listening in as a receptive and mediatized communicative action. This analytical distinction, I will argue, opens up a space to consider listening as an activity with political resonance. The main argument is that listening, as a communicative and participatory act, is necessarily and inescapably political. This has nowhere more profound consequences than in balancing the normative ideal of free speech with a normative freedom of listening that encompasses both a responsibility and a right to listen. Where the freedom of speech is a right ascribed to the individual, I argue there is a freedom of listening that, by contrast, inheres in the space between individuals, and is concerned precisely with guaranteeing the context within which freedom of expression can operate not as speech, but as communication.


Publication status

  • Published

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

The Listening Project

Event location

University of Sydney 9th December 2009

Event type


Department affiliated with

  • Media and Film Publications


Public lecture

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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