Matteo Bonotti (Cardiff/Politics) ‘Aural Morality: Accent and the Democratic Soundscape’ (co-authored with Yael Peled, McGill)

Hi all,

For the research talk this week, on Wednesday October 12th, we have Matteo Bonotti (Cardiff Politics) talking on ‘Aural Morality: Accent and the Democratic Soundscape’, which is a co-authored paper with Yael Peled (McGill).

The talk is at 4.15-5.45pm, in the now not so new room of 3.58, John Percival Building.

Abstract: Recent years have seen a noticeable surge of interest among political philosophers in questions concerning the relationship between language and politics, such as competing models of normative language regimes, conceptions of language rights and their scope and nature, and the political ethics of a global lingua franca. This interest, however, has been almost entirely committed to a liberal democratic approach, mainly focused on the issue of language rights against a background of fair democratic procedures, with little attention, if at all, given to more participatory and deliberative forms of democratic life. The absence of such attention is particularly intriguing in the context of deliberative theories, where language, and linguistic interaction more specifically, seemingly ought to comprise a crucial element in their formulation and evaluation. Disregarding the political essence of live speech in multilingual democratic theories, and particularly in those that follow a more deliberative approach, we propose, results in severe linguistic “epistemic injustice” (Fricker 2007). In particular, we focus on the question of accent, and the often-covert role that it plays in assigning credibility deficit – or excess – to the accented speech of individuals in monolingual political debates that take place in multilingual democracies. Given the considerable impact of sensorial data on democratic life, we argue, it is impossible for democratic theory, and particularly deliberative models of democratic theory, to maintain the preference for considering language primarily as a neutral system of thoughts while overlooking its sensory-based interactive and communicative nature. The same likewise holds for the emergent body of literature on linguistic justice more broadly. We begin the discussion by looking at deliberative democratic theory broadly intended, and at the implications of its preference for conceptualising language as an ideal communication system of thoughts at the expense of its communicative and interactive nature. We argue that the preference for the former paradoxically hinders rather than advances the deliberative model’s capacity to deliver on its promises and aspirations. We then move on to discuss the critical importance of sensory data to moral and political agency, and its more ready recognition of their importance in a constitutive rather than instrumentalist conception of language. We focus on the phenomenon of accent in real-life and live political interaction, and argue that the often-covert role that accent plays in the political life of multilingual democracies generates serious epistemic injustices of the testimonial type. Considering the emerging literature on linguistic justice, we examine the way in which differing conceptions of language unavoidably result in differing conceptions of normative language regimes, and locate deliberative theories along the dialogical end of the spectrum. We conclude by offering a more detailed account of the complex and interdependent relationship between democratic deliberation and a democratic soundscape, and the various policy measures needed to sustain it.

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