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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.
The politics, science, and art of
Emily Beausoleil*
School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, New Zealand
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.
Keywords: receptivity; democracy; neuroscience; affect; performance
A formerly homeless theatre workshop participant searches out the right characters
for his tableau; he scans the group, and points to me. He places me in the scene; he
lifts my arm and shapes my hand into a dismissive wave; he adjusts my hips and
torso; he sculpts my face with his fingers, gently, until I am scowling scornfully. He
crouches low, cowering in front of where I stand, and we hold this image*I hold
this stance, I become this character*I feel in my body how he sees people like me,
I feel in my body that I am this character. My arm begins to ache; I try to look for
cracks in the mold to overwrite this position of scorn, but I am frozen in character
before the group. I am implicated.
Pluralist democracies take as given that difference is the very stuff of politics*that
dominant meanings, values, and ways of life, and the political relations they main-
tain far from account for all citizens, and alternative possibilities might yet prove
*Correspondence to: Emily Beausoleil, School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey
University (PN331), Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand. Email:
Ethics & Global Politics
Vol. 7, No. 1, 2014, pp. 1940
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Citation: Ethics & Global Politics, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2014, pp. 1940.
legitimate, viable, even preferable. As such, democracy requires that we not only
make space for diverse ways of life, or simply ‘contain enough difference’*as if this
were possible*but also remain open and receptive to the challenges and changes
implied by such differences. Moreover, such receptivity is the very ground of demo-
cratic processes, and a determining factor in their effectiveness: societies with high
trust and dense social capital also have democratic institutions that work, and
deliberation works best when it is preceded by empathy and receptivity.
And yet
these democratic moments are risky*they introduce what Mark Warren calls a cer-
tain ‘groundlessness’ regarding the very meanings and values that position, frame,
and strengthen us.
And so, while these moments of encounter can open one up to
more complex ways of seeing, they can also incite fear, defensiveness, and deep-
ening entrenchments. As recent backlash against multiculturalism in Europe,
growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Australia, and the polarisation of politics in
the United States attest, this democratic demand might be the greatest placed on us
and the most difficult to achieve in diverse societies.
Democratic theory, perhaps due to its emphasis on representation and reason-
giving, has only in recent years seen a surge of interest in the affective dynamics of
reception within political communication. Indeed, with so much work on the issue
of voice, the inverse question of how people come to listen is only now being asked
in earnest. Yet undeniably, as Gayatri Spivak, Sara Ahmed, and Susan Bickford
also argue, a ‘politics of listening’ is equally integral to meaningful democratic
Without openness to the unfamiliar or uncomfortable, the potentially
undermining*what Romand Coles calls ‘receptive generosity’ and Jane Bennett
calls ‘presumptive generosity’*political communication in diverse societies would
be impossible.
A burgeoning scholarship in political theory that engages both affect and aesthetics
has begun to consider the role of receptivity in politics, and it is no accident why
this is so. To acknowledge the role that affect and aesthetics play in political life is
to move away from what Teresa Brennan calls the ‘foundational fantasy’
in Western
theory that presumes autonomy as the precondition of politics; it is to acknowledge
that we are always-already affected and only ever in response to the world in which
we are embedded. As a result, such scholarship has brought to the fore what has
so long been assumed as political backdrop: that reasoning and decision-making
are inseparable from affective and embodied processes; that the possibilities and
contours of perception are shaped by the textures, intensities, and resonances of the
affective ‘sounding chambers’
in which they occur; and that this influence need not
only be viewed with suspicion and despair but also engaged rigorously as a site of
politics in its own right. This scholarship has opened up new sites and strategies for
the cultivation of sensibilities conducive to ethical and political life, and frameworks
for holding previously bracketed dimensions of such life to greater account.
This article forms part of this strand of emergent theorising regarding the politics
of reception. It is provoked by a sense of the political significance of the briefest of
moments within encounters where we decide to close or open ourselves to ‘others’;
that grainy point of friction where one’s frame of reference rubs up against another,
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and one decides either to turn to familiar strategies of self-preservation against the
intrusion of the foreign, or to truly listen as democracy demands of us. In the half-
second delay between encounter and perception*what William Connolly calls the
‘fugitive flash point’ that is beneath cognition and beyond the reach of argument
what happens in this moment? What structures and shapes our responses, which are
often so quick that we miss the moment altogether and see only what we recognise,
recognise only what validates, and cannot hear that which exceeds our own frame of
reference? Where encounters with difference are unsettling, uncomfortable, even
undermining, what moves us to engage or to challenge the ground we take as given?
And, far more challenging, what defines those moments where implication, even
shame, in light of such encounters opens rather than closes us into defensiveness,
deeper entrenchments, and denials? It is this delicate, tenuous, elusive moment of
encounter with difference*that which prompts responses of both radical receptivity
and fundamentalist entrenchment*that seems absolutely crucial to theorise in
contemporary politics. This article explores the conditions of listening in politics
as well as how these might be effectively harnessed to produce receptivity and
responsiveness, using both recent developments in affect and neuroscience, and the
case of Headlines’ 2009 after homelessness ... forum theatre project to do so.
Conventional modes of civic engagement tend to privilege a speech culture
characterised by directness, literal truth-telling, and abstract and reasoned argumen-
tation. Here, the absence of emotion or physical movement is often taken as a
sign of objectivity, and indeed, if either emotional or rhetorical displays are too
pronounced, these are often seen to undermine the validity of truth-claims. And yet
recent scholarship in affect and neuroscience has shown in various ways that these
cognitive and verbal strategies are often insufficient to cultivate the receptivity that
constitutes the most basic premise of democratic encounters across difference. This
is because receptivity is, by definition, an affective state, and the decision to open
oneself to alternative views is thus both a precognitive and embodied one. We are
invested in certain truths and norms, attached to certain identities and relations;
we experience visceral resonances and dissonances in contact with others and affective
associations in light of such experiences, which through repetition shape our orien-
tations towards and away from others. In this way, social configurations*who ‘we’
and ‘they’ are, as well as the ranking and movements of these bodies in relation*are
shaped by what Sara Ahmed calls ‘affective economies’.
These affective experiences
and our interpretations of them create and sustain the very shape of politics.
Affect, though it underlies and structures thought, is in excess of cognitive
circuitries; it is the embodied ‘nonlinear complexity out of which the narration of
conscious states such as emotion are subtracted, but also ... ‘‘a never-to-be-
autonomic remainder’’’.
In fact, emotion, as affective neurobiologists have argued,
is this embodied ‘intensity owned and recognized’, the brain’s subjective interpreta-
tion of ‘somatic markers’ such as hormonal levels, blood flow, digestive activity,
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
neurotransmitters, and other dimensions of cellular metabolism.
This is further
complicated by the role that both implicit memory and the autonomic nervous
system play in structuring affective responses. Apart from our explicit memory,
which we can consciously recall and use to narrate our lives, childhood memories
and those with a strong emotional charge*particularly when traumatic*are
processed unconsciously through the amygdala and stored in the body in the form
of implicit memory. These implicit memories create enduring structural changes to
the limbic and autonomic nervous systems that, in turn, function as an on-going
template that constantly filters and shapes how present experiences are perceived and
Perhaps most provocatively, this means that our responses to and decisions in light
of experience often occur instantaneously and precognitively, shaped by past
experience that is often beyond the reach of conscious memory. And when the
autonomic nervous system is triggered*when we feel unsafe, anxious, or ashamed*
the flood of cortisol and adrenaline this induces limits blood flow to the frontal lobes
of the brain; it quite literally short-circuits our ability to access or remain reflective
about our own knowledge, remain receptive to the unfamiliar, and create new
responses and behaviours.
Inversely, when the body senses it is ‘safe,’ the auto-
nomic nervous system maintains a state of ‘open receptiveness’, the very state that
is found to be necessary for learning and integrating new information. Indeed,
psychotherapists have found that only in this state may new insights, behaviours, and
emotional responses emerge.
What, then, might cultivate receptivity in the face of foreign or challenging encoun-
ters, if cognitive and verbal means are not enough? I offer that performative practices
such as theatre and dance, using as they do both affective and embodied strategies
to garner attention, can illuminate how such dimensions might play a role in political
communication more broadly. These practices are, by their very nature, designed
to gain and hold our attention even as they communicate foreign, challenging, or
contentious positions across difference. As such, they work to cultivate receptivity and
dissemble those limits to thought, action and relation that preclude more complex
ways of seeing. How do they do this? I believe the forms of encounter most effective
in cultivating receptivity and revisability are those that move us via affective intensity
within pointedly mediated contexts. Here, the directness of both affective and physical
dimensions of such encounters is supported by the indirectness of performance’s
address; audiences are given the necessary space for receptivity rather than
reactionism in light of the impact of affective encounters. When performative
practices prove most disruptive and transformative, it is often through precisely
such a balance of strategies.
The growing literature on the politics of aesthetics has explored this first condition
of affective intensity in great depth. Aesthetic modes of representation are produc-
tive more than descriptive, evocative rather than assertive; when Jill Bennett states
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that art is ‘transactive’ rather than ‘communicative’ in the narrow sense, it is because
aestheticaffective practices stimulate certain kinds of experiences of a vivid present
more than they transcribe and relay a determinate message or represent an else-
where. From Kant to Deleuze, this intensity and immediacy of aesthetic encounters
has been linked to their ability to exceed and temporarily suspend recourse to our
established terms of meaning-making, forcing us to assemble, provisionally and
dynamically, what Jacques Rancie`re calls our ‘partitions of the sensible’ that mark the
bounds for what can be heard as ‘sound’ rather than ‘noise.’ In this way, aesthetic
affective encounters can propel us beyond the familiar and self-affirming and make it
possible ‘to figure the newly thinkable’*in Levinas’ turn of phrase, to ‘think more
than [one] thinks’*even in spite of ourselves.
Such experiences work politically not
so much in how they convey political ideas, but by how they interrupt the perceptual
field that bars the way to new thoughts or, perhaps more importantly, critical and
creative thinking. In short, they can provoke receptivity. For this reason, Davide
Panagia has called such sensorial encounters ‘radical democratic moment[s]’.
While this is not to say that all aesthetic encounters are democratic, where they
unsettle habituated behaviour and sedimented thought they open the field for the
potential pluralisation of politics.
This claim has recently been supported by neuroscience and therapeutic research
where specific embodied practices have been effective in cultivating the ‘open
receptiveness’ that listening across difference requires. For instance, embodied
practices that focus attention on internal and external physical sensations have been
found to initiate a down-regulation of the autonomic nervous system, helping
participants feel safe and relaxed and ultimately facilitating greater self-regulation
of one’s affects in the longer term.
Moreover, movement-based processes have been
effective in surfacing implicit memory and latent affect, making these available for
verbal and conscious processing and integration. Techniques such as the ‘body scan’,
for example, have been used to recall implicit memories stored in the body, attimes not
only releasing forgotten traumatic experiences but also the physical pain or tension
that had been the body’s means of storing them. Dance/movement therapist Kalila
Homann notes that movement-based strategies can not only reveal but also change the
emotional charge of implicit memories. By offering direct access to implicit somatic
processing of perception and memory, such practices are used to restructure that
which frames perception and response to present experience and yet remains beyond
the grasp of verbal and cognitive approaches.
Indeed, where practices remain
focused on right-brain processes*in other words, in imagistic, intuitive, or free
association rather than verbal or analytic strategies*they have been more successful
in creating the conditions for the emergence of new insights, syntheses of information,
and interconnections between different areas of the brain.
Subtle shifts in physical posture or movement also profoundly impact our affective
responses: to give only one example in this vast field of study, we are more likely to be
pleased by what we observe when holding a pen between the teeth, and disapprove
when it is held by the lips, as these gestures engage the musculature of a smile or frown,
Likewise, our ability to identify and empathise with the affective state
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
of others is significantly improved when taking on their physical posture.
facial expression, and physical activity have also been found to influence our cognitive
and communicative capacities. When physical or gestural movement is inhibited, we
are less capable of retrieving words, conveying ideas, or even solving problems; and
physical activity has been shown to greatly enhance brain functioning and learning
by stimulating neural repair and intersynaptic growth, as well as improving mood,
energy level, motivation, and capacity to focus.
What is particularly promising is that
such changes happen relatively quickly*either after several days or weeks of activity,
or when acute exercise is performed immediately prior to learning.
If both cognition
and affect live in the body in this way, the subtlest or briefest of shifts in posture,
movement or gesture might prove instrumental in shifting entrenched perceptions and
opening us to new insights. In theory and practice, it appears that if receptivity is
an affective and thus primarily embodied state, then embodied practices might be
among the most direct and effective routes to fostering it.
The case of Headlines Theatre’s 2009 forum theatre performance after home-
lessness ... demonstrated in various ways the particular capacity of performative
practices to cultivate receptivity across profound social difference and, indeed,
uneven discursive and political terrain. It did so due to its affective intensity via
strategic use of both concrete particularity and embodied inquiry but also*far less
theorised in affect or democratic scholarship but just as integral*due to the indi-
rectness of its highly mediated context. For while affective intensity can provoke the
dissembling and revision of once-calcified routes of thinking that democracy requires,
it is just as likely to prompt reactionary closures to this selfsame possibility*a potential
far less acknowledged and addressed in the literature to date. To this difficult, delicate
moment, aesthetic mediation offers a form of address that can reach and resonate in the
most recalcitrant places precisely because it does not attack them head-long; it invites
dissembling rather than defence precisely because such encounters speak opaquely,
invoke obliquely, implicate indirectly, and defer demand of responsive action. In this
case, we see three particular forms of mediation*symbolic,fictional, and locational,
each providing the necessary space with which the performance’s affective intensity
could provoke receptivity rather than defensiveness or denial. 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.
The Vancouver-based after homelessness ... project brought together 22 partici-
pants who represented a diverse range of experience regarding homelessness and
mental health, to develop a play that would generate a community dialogue to
explore the root causes of and innovate solutions to the city’s homelessness problem.
Participants spent six days together in October 2009, six of whom had been chosen
as cast members and who spent the following weeks creating and rehearsing a play
drawn from the workshop as well as their own experience. The final play reflects this
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diversity of voices: the recovered Katie who is determined to move up the wait-list
at the government Housing office and escape the SRO
; the drug-dealing Cloud
and crack addict Shawna living on either side; a manic Bob who has just lost his
downtown apartment; Otis, taking great pride in his ‘home’ under a tarp on the
street and who cannot bear the thought of being moved on again; and Nico, a young
recovered addict recently arrived at the SRO. Following Augusto Boal’s Theatre of
the Oppressed model, the play was designed to culminate in unresolved crisis, to
then be performed again, this time with the invitation to audiences to stop the action
at any point, take the place of the character whose struggle with whom they identify,
and try to change the course of events. In total, the 15 performances engaged over
1600 audience members and a conservative estimate of 11,000 via webcast and live
All of the resulting insights and policy innovations were collected and
collated into a Community Action Report by the project’s Community Scribe,
housing expert Gail Franklin, and submitted for consideration to eight government
and research organisations who had agreed to receive it.
The project sought to be ‘as true a voice as possible, to stimulate as deep a com-
munity dialogue as possible, to affect housing policy’; but as opposed to other
democratic processes, it did so by ‘creating the best theatre possible’.
Here is a very
different notion of ‘truth,’ in contrast to that of conventional political discourse: it is,
as artistic director David Diamond would say, an ‘artistic fiction that tells certain
truths’ drawn from lived experience, ‘but it isn’t real life, it’s theatre’. And because
theatre artists expressly seek to create the conditions for reception that will enable
participants and audiences to be affected and changed by what they encounter, the
means through which theatre represents these truths of marginalised difference
can often prove as, if not more, effective than conventional modes of testimony and
Like other forms of narrative commended by Iris Young, Angelia Means, and others
to articulate what is yet pre-discursive or ‘noise’ within dominant discourse, the
starting point for theatrical narrative is the concrete particularity of lived experience
rather than general claims.
But this theatrical mode of narrative goes further than
stories told at a remove in conventional forums by seeking to stage such realities
through a vivid and immersive experience; from heroin needles in the couch to
autumn leaves and the scent of toast emanating from Otis’ tarp on the street, this
initiated an*albeit mediated, albeit constructed*account that transformed often
abstract realities and general issues into a lived experience of its own, at a level of
Single Resident Occupancy buildings (SROs) are a form of low-income housing where suites may
hold no more than one, at most two, tenants often in one-room dwellings. They are a common
first*and transitional*home for those coming off the streets, and often a site of substandard
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
detail and degree of concreteness that verbal accounts simply cannot capture. For
many in the audience, this was the first time they had witnessed*and, in intervening,
experienced*a reality normally at the distance of fleeting televised images, the
rhetoric of stakeholders or journalists, or the bare and surreal numbers of statistics.
Regularly, this allowed people to connect with, care for, and be impacted by what
they saw, whether the project’s Community Scribe who felt ‘unprepared’ for how the
experience ‘shook’ and ‘gripped’ her despite years of experience in the field or the
three organisational recipients of the Community Action Report whose first-hand
experience of the project gave them ‘that goosebumpy sort of thing’ that they ‘had
kind of lost touch with’.
Audience members, whether in tears following the perfor-
mance or in letters written in the days that followed, repeatedly shared that they were
‘getting it, for the first time’, that ‘their relationship to the homeless issue will never
be the same’, and that they could not ‘stop thinking (or talking)’ about the expe-
rience when so many others had faded.
As scholars of affect also argue, many of the report’s recipients noted that
information alone is not enough to motivate action and incite change; with a whole
society and the federal and provincial agenda aware of the issues surrounding
homelessness in Vancouver, this capacity to, as two housing officials noted, capture
voice and personal experience that are often lost from view ‘in a way that’s visceral ...
being able to engage in an empathic way ... moves the conversation forward’.
As Diamond said to forum audiences, ‘if we could all feel it, we’d be able to do
something’, and this is precisely what artistic practices can do: if it affects action or
changes a life, ‘it is not by handing out a recipe for the applying but rather by
disturbing us emotionally, mentally, because it finds us’.
The theatrical mode, in its
vivid specificity, enabled audiences to encounter the concrete reality of these issues
and, equally significant, feel the humanity within them across cultural and class
differences, often for the first time.
The affective intensity of the after homelessness ... project was due not only to its
use of the vivid particular; it was also because it was highly embodied. The first
two days of the workshop were conducted almost wholly without verbal language,
sometimes without sight, and participants expressed and explored core experiences,
values, and facets of social issues all through embodied practices. Although each
workshop activity was followed by a brief discussion of what it brought up for
participants in the context of ‘after homelessness,’ Diamond was quick to curtail
extended verbal dialogue, insistent that this energy should be channelled back into
further embodied and theatrical explorations. And, of course, during the forum
phase of the performance, rather than debate or hypothesise possible solutions from
one’s seat in the audience, people quite literally stepped into the world that was
depicted onstage in what Diamond would call a ‘dialogue of action’ or Boal calls
‘learning by experience’.
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In working through the body, the process allowed unconscious knowledge, bias,
and affect to emerge. Diamond stressed to the group that ‘you don’t learn it here
[in your head], you learn it through your body’, and participants noted over the
course of the workshop that these embodied exercises brought long-forgotten
memories and feelings to the surface because, as in one person’s words, ‘I can feel
it in my body, in a new way’. This was equally true within performance interventions:
in one instance an intervener, despite the initial intention to create community,
surprised herself by urging others to physically assault the police, flooded by personal
memory and strong emotion normally kept in check; in another intervention taking
the place of the police officer during the tarp eviction scene, an elderly woman found
herself choosing to taser Otis even though she had begun with the express intention
not to. These moments brought to the stage what often underlies but remains
unspoken*even unconscious*in conventional political forums, and in doing so
helped to reveal what Wittgenstein calls the ‘picture [that holds] us captive’
as well
as explicitly address those contentious perspectives that are often silent factors in
conventional sites.
As well as bringing to the surface what often remains subliminal or unspoken, this
‘dialogue of action’ exposed and challenged presumptions and misconceptions that
shape and limit our encounters with others. As one audience member exclaimed on
stage, ‘whoa*this is really different once you’re up here ...’. By entering the struggles
the characters are engaged in, by being guided by the specificity of the context,
interveners repeatedly found themselves trapped and at a loss, or unable to cope with
the challenges they thought easy to address, or that the solution they had thought so
clear does not work; and the ease with which, in one cast member’s words, one can
‘speculate ... [when you] just sit there from the armchair or your couch watching TV
and say, what the hell’s wrong with these people’,
suddenly became impossible.
In these ways, then, the community gathered through the forum was confronted
with latent beliefs, affect, and knowledge that underlie and inform perceptions of the
encounter and are too easily lost within other discursive modes, and all a result of the
embodiment of the encounter. By catching us off-guard, by creating ‘uncanny’ or
surprise encounters, by employing communicative modes for which we have the least
developed defences, artistic practices can bring to the surface and make available to
intervention those affective and cognitive challenges that are among the greatest
precisely due to their invisibility.
While both concrete particularity and embodied inquiry play a vital role in creating
the dissembling experiences that affect scholars describe, one of the most significant
aspects of performative encounters in this context is the fact that these dissembling,
ungrounding moments are highly mediated, creating the conditions for receptivity
and revisability rather than defensive closure. In fact, artists are among the most
finely attuned to the fact that often the most direct route to transforming beliefs and
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
behaviours is to approach the matter obliquely. Making use of symbolism, fiction,
or the liminal space of the theatre itself, what is normally heard only as white noise or
met with rejection might very well sneak in through the cracks.
The symbolic played a key role in this project’s mode of engagement, where the
concrete*a tarp, a newspaper, a bug-infested mattress*was taken as evocative of
multiple readings, for as Diamond would say, ‘everything is symbolic’. In fact, he
would explicitly prevent performers from explaining their intended meaning, as this
‘would limit your creativity’ and ‘this ambiguous space is a very rich place’. In doing
so, the concrete as symbolic functioned as a form of polyphony, able to represent
and engage multiple perspectives without demanding conflation or consensus. In
doing so, it was able to capture the complexity of experience and bring to light latent
tensions, contradictions, and interrelations often occluded in other forms of repre-
sentation; one could see the parallel between being mugged and being arrested,
between pacing in a single-room transitional home and a prison cell; one could hear
the irony of the automated government Housing call centre’s claim that ‘your call is
very important to us’ as Katie leaves the office empty-handed and defeated; a tableau
of two people with their backs to a third could at once be a fraught parental rela-
tionship, a shield of friends while lighting a crackpipe, the power of the status quo,
the silencing of one’s inner child, or the indifference of society at large. This capacity
to evoke and hold multiple readings thus also drew attention to relations between
micro- and macro-levels, the systemic nature of these issues, and demonstrated that
our often linear and siloised approaches to such issues are part of the problem.
Connected to this, the evocative enabled the articulation and engagement of
meaning and identity in the absence of certainties: unlike literal discourse in which
such collective inquiry often requires that knowledge be ‘a fixed, knowable, finite
thing’, to be evocative in meaning is also, as Julie Salverson and others argue, to
generate a container in which a space or ‘gap’ exists that can represent ‘risky stories
... in such a way that the subtleties of damage, hope and the ‘not nameable’ can be
performed’; it can, as Boal argues, ‘tell the truth, without being absolutely sure’.
But the evocative use of symbolism does more than reveal these truths: it performs
the critical work of foregrounding the act of inter pretation entailed in understanding,
relaxing the grip of absolute claims that preclude other ways of seeing even as
identities and issues are given shape. The performance*its characters, its dialogue,
the materials on stage, and what happens there*is multivalent. This is accentuated
even more by the breaking apart and reforming of the very script in light of external
interventions: both the identities so represented and the meanings audiences come
away with are explicitly multiple, dynamic, and open to contestation. As a result, the
symbolic’s ‘absence’ and ‘excess’ of meaning simultaneously signal the limits of one’s
understanding and the agency of the one so represented; it complicates the basis for
a simplistic empathy by presenting complex others who cannot be wholly pinned
down, whose identities are ‘diffuse and ungraspable’, and open to resignification.
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In sharp contrast to the clarity and directness of theoretical argumentation or
declarative testimony, here the evocative provides the ‘opacity and obscurity [that]
are necessarily the precious ingredients of all authentic communications’, as they
offer a space ‘for the unmarked, or Other, or dissenter, to remain ... [a] space across
which the familiar and the strange can gaze upon each other’.
In so doing, the
evocative also enables affiliation, even coalition, through what Boal and Jan Cohen-
Cruz call ‘analogy rather than identification’, attentive to the complexity and
particularity of the other’s experience even within intense moments of resonance.
This was most apparent in the workshop, from the capacity to connect multiple and
even contradictory experiences through the same tableau to the formation of skit-
building groups via gestures or sounds.
The performance phase, conceived by Diamond as a ‘mirror of reality’, moved
away from this generative place of the evocative and into more literal claims; though
audiences were invited to intervene in evocative terms, these scenes and particularly
the actor’s expertise of lived experience that held them in check emphasised a literal
reading, which, in turn, introduces all the risks of the what Julie Salverson calls
‘lie of the literal’
: encouraging literal identification with and replication of ‘fixed’
historicised roles; misportrayals of one actor’s responses and reflections as either
‘innocent’ and objective, or ‘speaking for’ a far broader and diverse range of
possibilities*for, inevitably, should a different actor be in the same place, different
responses and realities would be brought to the stage; as well as the illusion of fully
‘grasping’ another’s experience by standing in for them on stage when the position is
understood literally. However, where the evocative was used to articulate experience
and generate affiliation, the spaciousness it generated provided the means to do so
with a care for the diversity, complexity and even trauma of the truths it represented.
A second form of aesthetic mediation that proved significant in this case was the
use of fiction. Theatre’s mode of truth-telling is, as Boal notes, at once actual and
fictitious, ‘belonging completely and simultaneously to two different, autonomous
worlds: the image of reality and the reality of the image’.
Though drawn from lived
experience, this was an act of collective story-telling; in fact, though personal
narratives were a part of the workshop phase, Diamond would at times limit these
disclosures, emphasising that they were in the process of crafting ‘collective truths’
that were ‘owned by the group’. Likewise, actors played characters they understood,
and responded honestly from that experience rather than ‘pretended’ on stage;
however, this was always in the context of an explicit, group-generated fiction, which
had a number of significant effects. First, it enabled a critical distance from the
immediate everyday as participants observed themselves in action on the stage,
‘oblig[ed to] both to see and to see himself ’.
Such aesthetic distancing, as Sue
Jennings also observes, ‘paradoxically allows us to experience reality at a deeper
level’, as identities and actions are externalised and worked out on the stage.
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
Second, the fictional mode allowed participants at all stages to not only observe
but also imagine themselves differently, in what Boal calls ‘subjunctive theatre’: ‘a
mirror which we can penetrate to modify our image’, changing ‘the vision of the
world as it is into a world as it could be’.
Judith Butler notes the difference between
theatrical and social performance in much the same terms, stating that ‘perfor-
mances in non-theatrical contexts are governed by more clearly punitive and regu-
latory social conventions’ because they lack performance’s theatrical conventions
that ‘delimit the purely imaginary character of the act’.
Unlike conventional
publics, performance is designed to temporarily suspend the otherwise largely
seamless flow of daily performances of identity, norm, and meaning, and the material
relations they legitimise, and engage in the serious play with possibility. It asks for
the ‘suspension of disbelief,’ and invites the spectator to play with the norms, codes,
laws, and customs that govern one’s life beyond the stage. While all performance is
‘subjunctive’ by stimulating observation, critique and imagination, this project,
by building to an unresolved crisis, inviting audience intervention, and rehearsing
possible solutions, allowed participants to ‘practice (and not simply imagine)’
alternative possibilities.
Moreover, precisely because performance is set apart from everyday life and does
not directly invoke one’s particular context, this invitation is more likely to be met
with curiosity and receptivity, and a willingness to experiment. Within performative
engagements, my identification with and thus investments in the course of events, the
laws of physics, and norms of politics are not as great; I do not so easily feel
personally attacked when a character with whom I share ground is challenged
precisely on that ground. As a result, this aesthetic distancing also works to create a
psychic distance that lowers the stakes; it becomes just a little more tenable to engage
with the foreign, ambiguous and challenging. The liminality of these theatrical spaces
opens up what one performance artist calls ‘demilitarized zone[s] in which mean-
ingful ‘‘radical’’ behaviour and progressive thought are allowed to take place, even
if only for the duration of the performance itself’.
This was certainly true in the Headlines case at both workshop and forum phases,
where participants stepped into a specific character in a fictional scene, and thus into
a highly mediated context in which, as Diamond explained in the workshop, they
could ‘process stuff they’re going through at a really deep level in a really safe way’.
Here, even interventions that involved mourning or led to conflict or violence could
be experienced safely; as Diamond shared with the workshop group, ‘it’s better to try
an idea and get beaten up theatrically than in real life’.
This mediation via artistic fiction is essential in creating this feeling of safety,
particularly where sensitive, often vulnerable aspects of identity, emotion, and
experience are disclosed and explored*particularly when the process involves
marginalised communities and experiences of personal trauma. We saw this at
work in the evocative nature of these accounts, where representations are spacious
enough to hold meaning and identity without ‘too literal [a] representation, or too
tight [a] container’.
As collective fiction*as character, or crafted scene*these
accounts work akin to certain ritual objects that Michael Taussig notes are effective
E. Beausoleil
insofar as they ‘display little likeness to the people they are meant to heal or
It is, as many theatre and trauma scholars note, through the gap in
resemblance that psychic distance and safety*and, by extension, receptivity and
revisability*are possible.
This was clear on day five of the workshop when groups
moved from ‘tilling the soil’ of lived experience to generating extended plays; one
participant described it as ‘when you go from the shitbox to the sandbox’, where
there was a marked shift in the feel of the room to greater emotional distance and a
heightened sense of play, experimentation, and confidence.
Opening up this emotional terrain within mediated contexts also allowed audi-
ences to do the same: on two occasions, audience members took the place of Nico in
the final scene and chose to sit down and*not problem-solve, not rail*but rather,
simply, mourn. This opened up a powerful space to discuss the need to feel this
emotional underbelly that is often shielded in everyday experience or bracketed in
conventional discourse. The space of the theatre, set apart from the everyday and
mediated through artistic fiction, provided such a space, and allowed these hidden
layers of emotional reality to emerge, signaling the pressing need for such spaces,
despite*perhaps due to*their dearth elsewhere.
Fourth, like the evocative nature of symbolism, fictional portrayal facilitates
receptivity by portraying its truths as performative. Whereas the ‘lie of the literal’ can
through the illusion of direct access lead to reduction, objectification, and conflation
of social difference, theatrical accounts tell ‘one’s created truth’, and so construe the
account as ‘interpretive labor’ rather than mirror of reality*as situated, interpreted,
and non-exhaustive for both artist and audience.
This is made clear not only
through its evocative nature or fictional mediation, of course, but also through the
embodied nature of the theatrical gaze: as Diana Taylor writes, in the theatre, ‘[w]hat
becomes immediately visible are the specificities of our position and the ensuing
limits to our perspective. We can’t see everything; we can’t occupy the visual vant-
age point of those located somewhat differently in the frame’.
And while the
performativity of the after homelessness ... account was at times lost from view in an
emphasis on its literal ‘mirror,’ where this fictional mediation was maintained it
worked to chasten knowledge-claims about those so represented, by situating the
observer and gesturing to the inevitable absence and excess of their particular
But this overt performativity also has another effect: when understanding is
explicitly interpretive, the meanings it generates for viewers are by nature open-
ended rather than directive, through a dialogic rather than didactic tirade. Boal and
Diamond, along with other contemporary theatre directors and scholars, view this
dialectic mode of communication and the critical agency it gives observers as inte-
gral to the forum process.
By representing these experiences through the fictional
enactment of them*not as an argument, or a lesson, or an exercise in blame, nor
even one perspective as in the case of personal narrative*this account was a story
at-a-remove which audiences could watch unfold without being told what to think
or how to respond. Without a determinate and heavy-handed message, these en-
counters thus open up rather than foreclose meaning, do ‘not so much reveal truth as
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
thrust us involuntarily into a mode of critical inquiry’.
In this way, it is, as Rey
Chow argues regarding literature, ‘quite opposite to the clarity and forthrightness of
theoretical argumentation. ‘The more the opinions of the [artist] remain hidden, the
better for the work of art’: a very different kind of power for producing change,
in other words, is at play’.
Beyond the particular mode of communication, the publics that performance
instigates are also highly mediated. All artistic encounters generate an ‘in-between
temporality’, a ‘stillness of time and a strangeness of framing’ that mediates other
realities and possibilities in the specific moment, ‘bridging the home and the world’.
However, it is in performance, which so closely resembles other forms of public
engagement, that we can see the distinct contributions such mediated dynamics make
to public engagement most clearly. Unlike static art forms and similar to conventional
public spheres, performance is a physically and temporally demarcated space where
artists and audiences meet; in this way, performance works like other forms of
democratic engagement to create a degree of what Kenneth Baynes calls ‘reflective
distance’ from the context in which one is usually immersed, so enabling partic-
ipants to consider a range of values and courses of action.
However, the liminality
of performative engagements is far more pronounced than in these conventional
publics, so much so that the widely held definition of performance is in terms of
such liminality*a ‘spatial, temporal, and symbolic ‘in-betweenness’ [that] allows
for dominant norms to be suspended, questioned, played with, transformed’.
These publics are mediated in two notable ways. First, they are distinguished from
one’s immediate contexts: the audiences of performance are ‘thrown together,’ to
use Iris Young’s term,
and as opposed to the communities to which one feels imme-
diately accountable*those in which one would feel most ‘caught out’ when found to
be wrong or implicated*this public at-a-remove provides a certain breathing space
for quiet, unsettling, transformative moments, where implication or shame can lead
to a turning-towards rather than a turning-away. One has space between, in this
liminal zone*often even in the cover of darkness*to admit to oneself what is
difficult to acknowledge publicly. One is not immediately accountable, nor even
visible, in moments when one is exposed, challenged, and compelled to revise.
Second, this public does not demand an immediate response. At once ‘both real
and not real’, these experiments have, as Baz Kershaw writes, ‘no necessary conse-
quence for the audience. Paradoxically, this is the first condition needed for
performance efficacy’.
This is not to say that art is not consequential; however,
it effects this change through the way that it opens up spaces for reflection and
revision, and it does this in part through the lack of immediate demand on those so
engaged. When action-oriented perceptions necessarily form faster than conscious
encounters that do not require an immediate response hold greater
potential for tectonic shift of infraconscious habits, sensibilities, and dispositions that
prevent more complex or pluralised modes of seeing. This pause between encounter
E. Beausoleil
and concomitant action creates a temporal breathing space for the dissembling
and refiguration of one’s thought in light of what is encountered, both within and
following the event. For while these encounters*and the half-second journey from
sense to perception within them*may entail so much in a fleeting moment, these
moments are not isolated from a much longer trajectory that facilitated their emer-
gence, nor the through-line that surges forward in light of the event. By deferring
the demand for public response or direct action, such practices provide for more
prolonged attention to the unfolding genealogies of provocation and transformation.
In this way, engagement with artistic practices does not end with the immediate
encounter but expands into further evaluation, discussion, and integration. Indeed,
perhaps due to the processural nature of the understanding it initiates, performance
presents a means through which such revisability over time is facilitated in a way that
other political forums that demand immediate response have difficulty achieving.
In these ways, the indirect nature of artistic forums can create the conditions wherein
those very positions to which we are most attached and identified with can be
unsettled and revised.
[O]nce the performance is over and people walk away, my hope is that a process of
reflection gets triggered in their perplexed psyches. If the performance is effective (I
didn’t say good, but effective), this process can last for several weeks, even months.
The questions and dilemmas embodied in the images and rituals I present can
continue to haunt the spectator’s dreams, memories, and conversations. The
objective is not to ‘like’ or to ‘understand’ performance art, but to create a sediment
in the audience’s psyche.
Guillermo Gomez-Pen
Despite the democratic demand for receptivity on both normative and practical
grounds*despite the fact that it underlies all democratic processes by grounding
the capacity to listen*the question of how such receptivity might be actively
fostered remains a marginal one. Recent findings in the fields of affect and
neuroscience might be cause for further deterrence, as they show that receptivity
remains the domain of that which political scientists have overlooked for centuries.
However, as clarified in this case, confirmed in neuroscientific and therapeutic
research, and supported by an emergent political scholarship on the ‘tactics and
that directly engage the pre-ideational dimensions of thinking, to lie
beyond the domain of cognitive and verbal processes is not to lie beyond potential
While conventional democratic forums likewise gather affected communities in
sustained political dialogue and deliberation, we have seen that performance offers
distinct resources for democratic engagement of difference. By grounding accounts
of political experience in concrete and vivid specificity, profoundly affective
encounters that can motivate political change are possible. By employing embodied
modes of investigation, often unspoken*even unconscious*memory, belief and
affect can find their way to public discourse. And by mediating engagement of the
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
difficult knowledge of marginalised experience through symbolism, fiction, and
performance’s liminal space, this discursive mode heightens capacities to observe,
reflect, and experiment with aspects of political reality, provides a psychic distance
that makes it safer to do so, and foregrounds both the interpretive and partial nature
of understanding essential to hearing what lies beyond our present terms.
In light of how precarious and difficult receptivity is to maintain in encounters with
difference*particularly those encounters in which we are implicated, feel exposed,
and scramble to shore up our defences*this case’s ability to depict marginalised
experiences that implicate and invoke the broader community without provoking
these usual responses seems especially valuable. The two organisational recipients of
the final report who also attended the performance noted this was the performance’s
greatest impact, that its representation of well-worn issues was refreshing and
persuasive precisely because it worked ‘without any hidden agendas’:
it allowed people to express their views in a way that we’ve not seen before. It’s
always been ... A bunch of egghead academics sitting in a room with the mayor
talking about what you should do, a bunch of citizens screaming at you at a public
hearing to actually sit back and have an honest-to-gosh chat that’s moderated or a
play where you can stop the action and ask a question, I think that’s pretty cool.
When both the ‘screaming’ of, in City Councillor Kerry Jang’s words, ‘the same
ten people’ and the academic research that dominates policy discourse have become,
to some extent, ‘noise’ to those working in the field, the at once immersive and highly
mediated nature of this theatrical performance enabled such noise to become sound.
What does this mean for democratic theory and practice? For while this case
highlights that such aesthetic practices enable forms of political intervention we
seek in democratic politics, one might wonder how transferable these insights and
strategies are to more conventional sites. Primarily, this research supports a growing
field of inquiry across disciplines that finds traditional notions of thinking limited to
cognition*and theories of encounter reduced to the politics of recognition*do not
capture the far more complex relationship between these processes and the affective
and somatic layers of experience that underlie and inform them. It confirms that
these precognitive dimensions cannot be addressed with argument alone, and
contributes to current efforts in this emergent scholarship to address these ‘infra-
sensible conditions’
directly via affective, aesthetic, and somatic means: it shows
the need to provide conditions for the regulation of the autonomic nervous system if
challenge is to be met with curiosity and receptivity*if we are to feel ‘safe’ enough to
risk ourselves; it shows the need to employ embodied practices that surface and
engage layers of affect, bias, and memory that shape how the present is perceived;
and it shows the fecundity of working with the senses and communicating through
the evocative to call us into the present and catalyse intensities and resonances when
reason-giving is not enough.
But this work also contributes to this emergent scholarship by speaking to the
potentially undemocratic responses to affective intensity. The encounter just as likely
provokes dogged retreat as radical opening, and by considering the mediation of such
E. Beausoleil
moments*methods of indirect address, from symbolism and fictionalisation to
spatial and social liminality and temporal deferral*we might in such moments
facilitate, though by no means determine, the receptivity democracy demands of us.
In so doing, it speaks not only to the democratic potential of the immediate encoun-
ter emphasised in the literature but also to some of the contextual factors that shape
how such provocations are received, and might be used to facilitate preparedness
for the event. At the very least, in making use of such strategies aesthetic practices
generate ‘receptively accented activity and experience’ that enhances neural and
somatic capacities for future receptivity in more conventional political contexts.
But in broadening the terms of what counts as relevant to political theorisations
of the dynamics of encounter, there are also intimations here of how these tactics
might be taken up in democratic processes more broadly. In truth, it brings to the
fore key dimensions of communication that are not only characteristic of perfor-
mative practices, but are at times already at work in conventional democratic
processes and might be strategically developed within such sites. If the body is
always-already present in moments of encounter; if affect and implicit memory are
inseparable from and integral to meaning-making; if knowledge-claims are always
performative, partial, and situated, we cannot shy away from interrogating how these
dimensions of reception are at work in all political sites. How might visual, affective,
and physical aspects of communication be more effectively identified, harnessed,
and applied within conventional democratic processes to cultivate the conditions
of receptivity that democracy requires? For they might certainly play a greater role
than currently envisioned.
I am reminded of the role that images played in the 1978 Camp David Accords: on
day 13 when negotiations had broken down and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem
Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat were ready to return without an agree-
ment, U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined Begin in his cabin and placed photo-
graphs of the three politicians to be signed and given to Begin’s grandchildren into
his hands. Carter recalls that Begin read the names of his grandchildren at the top of
each image, vocalizing each out loud; ‘[h]is lips trembled, and tears welled up in
his eyes’, and Begin began to share a little about each grandchild with Carter as he
held the photographs inscribed with his grandchildren’s names. Merely 5 minutes
following this encounter, Begin emerged from his cabin to ask to look at the peace
proposal again.
Here, circuitous address via a seemingly unrelated act opened a
once-foreclosed route to the dissembling impact such images held.
How might the strategic use of imagery and sound, spatial arrangements or
periodic movement*whether postural changes or change of physical locale as
in what Romand Coles calls ‘traveling’ and ‘tabling’
*affect the dynamics and
outcomes of democratic processes? How might approaching political issues indirectly
through fiction, symbol, or liminal spaces, or evocatively through multimodal means,
help to unsettle the ‘partitions of the sensible’ in ways that direct address and
reasoned argument often cannot? Indeed, this research has shown that sometimes
the most effective way to challenge and transform entrenched thought and behaviour
is to approach them obliquely. How can we cultivate the patience and creativity to
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
design processes with this in mind, to critically intervene in these ‘fugitive passages
from unthought to thought’?
Neglect of these subtler yet pervasive dimensions of encounter inadvertently
perpetuates patterns of exclusion, reduction, and devaluation that run counter to a
democratic ethos. Indeed, I would venture that this work has shown why, in great
part, conventional processes that rely upon reasoned argument and direct address are
often insufficient in capturing the complexity, nuance, and interrelation of social
difference, cultivating relations and forms of coalition in these terms, and fostering
the receptivity such a politics of difference requires. To take the aesthetic seriously in
democratic theory is to open up a crucial if yet largely neglected terrain regarding
its role in all sites of politics; to do so enables greater inclusion in, and indeed a
pluralisation of forms of, democratic engagement.
This case demonstrates that performative processes offer not only legitimate forms
of alternative democratic engagement but indeed possess distinct capacities to foster
a politics of listening that can be one of the greatest challenges in other political sites.
When it is clear that receptivity may underlie all democratic encounters but lies
beyond the grasp of conventional political strategies, this case reveals that affective
and somatic dimensions of politics may be directly engaged through embodied
practices even as markedly indirect approaches lead to responses of dissembling and
revision rather than denial and defence. However fraught with its own risks, this
particular constellation of seemingly contradictory approaches allows performative
practices to foster forms of engagement that democracy at once demands and finds
most challenging, and might yet offer vital insight into how this might be achieved
more broadly.
I would like to thank Barbara Arneil, Mark Warren, Renisa Mawani, and the
anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and comments on this article.
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27. Gail Franklin, personal interview, Vancouver, BC, December 9, 2009; Sue Noga (BC
Regional Steering Committee on Mental Health), personal interview, Vancouver, BC, April
21, 2010; Kerry Jang (City Council), personal interview, Vancouver, BC, March 24, 2010;
and Mark Smith (RainCity Housing), personal interview, Vancouver, BC, April 13, 2010.
28. Diamond, After Homelessness ..., 87; and Audience letters, quoted in Diamond, After
Homelessness ...,99106.
29. Dominic Flanagan (BC Housing), personal interview, Vancouver, BC, March 25, 2010;
and Mark Smith, personal interview, Vancouver, BC, April 13, 2010.
30. David Craig, ‘Introduction’, in Marxists on Literature, ed. Daniel Craig (Baltimore: Penguin,
1975), 22.
31. Augusto Boal, The Rainbow of Desire, trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 1995), 19.
32. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. Gertrude E. M. Anscombe (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1958), §115.
33. Justine Goulet, personal interview, Surrey, BC, December 14, 2009.
34. Julie Salverson, ‘Performing Emergency: ?Witnessing, Popular Theatre, and The Lie of the
Literal’, Theatre Topics 6, no. 2 (1996): 184, 188; and Boal, The Rainbow of Desire, 39.
35. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1996), 2; Mary
Beth Tierney-Tello, ‘Testimony, Ethics, and the Aesthetic in Diamela Eltit’, PMLA 114, no.
1 (January 1999): 84; and Linda Park-Fuller, ‘Performing Absence: The Staged Personal
Narrative as Testimony’, Text and Performance Quarterly 20, no. 1 (January 2000): 32.
36. Franc
¸oise Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1989), 4; and Salverson, ‘Performing Emergency’, 186.
37. Boal, The Rainbow of Desire, 45; and Jan Cohen-Cruz, ‘Redefining the Private: From
Personal Storytelling to Political Act’, in A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural
Politics, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz and Mary Schutzman (New York: Routledge, 2006), 110.
38. Salverson, ‘Performing Emergency’.
39. Boal, The Rainbow of Desire, 43.
40. Ibid., 25.
41. Sue Jennings et al., The Handbook of Dramatherapy (New York: Routledge, 1994), 22.
42. Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. McBride and Maria Odilia Leal
(New York: Urizen Books, 1979), 132; and Marie-Claire Picher, ‘Democratic Process and
the Theater of the Oppressed’, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 116
(Winter 2007): 82.
43. Judith Butler, ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology
and Feminist’, Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (December 1988): 527.
44. D. Soyini Madison, ‘Performance, Personal Narratives, and the Politics of Possibility’, in
The Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions, ed. Sheron J. Dailey (Annandale, VA:
National Communication Association, 1999), 280; and Geraldine Pratt and Caleb Johnston,
‘Turning Theatre into Law, and Other Spaces of Politics’, Cultural Geographies 14 (2007):
45. Guillermo Gomez-Pen
˜a, Ethno-Techno: Writings of Performance, Activism and Pedagogy
(New York: Routledge, 2005), 24.
46. Salverson, ‘Performing Emergency’, 186.
47. Ibid., 186; and Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses
(New York: Routledge, 1993), 51.
48. Park-Fuller, ‘Performing Absence’, 31; and Robert Landy, Drama Therapy: Concepts and
Practices (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1986), 100.
49. Elin Diamond, Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theatre (London: Routledge,
1997), ix; Julie Salverson, ‘Transgressive Storytelling or an Aesthetic of Injury: Performance,
Pedagogy and Ethics’, Theatre Research in Canada 20, no. 1 (Spring 1999), http://journals.
The politics, science, and art of receptivity
39 (accessed November 30, 2011); and
Park-Fuller, ‘Performing Absence’, 28.
50. Diana Taylor, ‘Border Watching’, in The Ends of Performance, ed. Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane
(New York: New York University Press, 1998), 183.
51. Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 141; Augusto Boal, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, 2nd ed.,
trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 2002), 241; Eugenio Barba, The Paper Canoe:
A Guide to Theatre Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1995), 95; Deborah Mutnick, ‘Critical
Interventions: The Meaning of Praxis’, in A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and
Cultural Politics, ed. Jan Cohen-Cruz and Mary Schutzman (New York: Routledge, 2006),
43; Roxana Waterson, ‘Testimony, Trauma, and Performance: Some Examples from
Southeast Asian Theatre’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 41 (2010): 514; and Diamond,
After Homelessness ..., 38.
52. Bennett, Empathic Vision, 11.
53. Rey Chow, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University
Press, 2002), 137.
54. Homi Bhabha, ‘The World and the Home’, in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and
Postcolonial Perspectives, ed. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis,
MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 451.
55. Kenneth Baynes, ‘Communicative Ethics, the Public Sphere and Communication Media’,
Critical Studies in Mass Communication 11, no. 4 (1994): 318.
56. Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ
Publications, 1982); Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia,
PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); and Jon McKenzie, ‘Genre Trouble: (The)
Butler Did It’, in The Ends of Performance, ed. Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane (New York:
New York University Press, 1998), 218.
57. Iris Marion Young, ‘Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy’,
in Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, ed. Seyla Benhabib
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 126.
58. Baz Kershaw, ‘Performance, Community, Culture’, in The Routledge Reader in Politics and
Performance, ed. Lizbeth Goodman with Jane de Gay (London: Routledge, 2000), 139,
original emphasis.
59. Connolly, Neuropolitics,2248.
60. Connolly, Neuropolitics, 35.
61. Coles, ‘The Neuropolitical Habitus of Resonant’, 276.
62. Coles, ‘The Neuropolitical Habitus of Resonant’, 281.
63. Jimmy Carter, Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a President (Fayetteville, AR: University of
Arkansas Press, 1995).
64. Coles, ‘Moving Democracy’.
65. Connolly, Neuropolitics, 112.
E. Beausoleil
... Building on the concept of listening developed by Bickford and others, 21 Emily Beausoleil's (2014) succeed in creating what certainly fits Bickford's description of "an active involvement in a joint project," Beausoleil draws on neuroscience and political theory. First, she uses research which establishes that affect is a vital part of cognition to argue that affective elements are necessary for receptive listening, as without them, we will simply not be moved to the "openness" that Bickford prescribes. ...
... Here, such works have enabled me to analyze international-local relationships as parallel to other powered relations, where men as a group are made invisible as the norm in patriarchy, straight people in heteronormativity, and white people in racism. My dissertation thus provides theoretical insights which can be fruitful for the burgeoning research on the role of emotions in security, war, and peacebuilding (Åhäll and Gregory 2013;Crawford 2000Crawford , 2014Penttinen 2013;Sylvester 2012;Wibben 2016;Wilcox 2014, to mention a few) as well as on political listening (Bassel 2017;Beausoleil 2014Beausoleil , 2017Dobson 2014;Dreher 2009;Firth and Farinati 2017) and receptivity (Coles 2011;Kompridis 2011;Nedelsky 2011;Norval 2011). However, most directly, the dissertation contributes theoretically to practice approaches by showing how they can integrate feminist insights on emotions and failure to create more understanding of the power struggles involved in defining competence and thus to more critical practice-based research. ...
... The ambiguities not only concern negative or positive emotions, but whether actors are moved to change by being jolted out of their comfort zone or by being in calm and secure environments where they can let go of their need for control and defenses. While my my initially cited studies by Romanowska (2014) and Beausoleil (2014) suggest that disruption is more conducive to change, research on learning and emotional safety would suggest the opposite. More research could help deepen understandings of the role of different emotions in encouraging change in peacebuilding partnership practices. ...
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Why are “international” actors so bad at listening to “local” peacebuilding partners? That internationals should listen to locals is a widely accepted norm in peacebuilding, yet, research consistently documents that local actors do not feel heard. To understand this puzzle, scholars have increasingly focused on ordinary peacebuilding practices, finding that these practices keep internationals separate from local actors and make it harder for them to listen. However, despite the focus on practices as embodied habits and understandings, emotions are usually considered irrelevant. My dissertation challenges this conventional wisdom, arguing that we should pay attention to emotions that international peacebuilding practitioners experience as a key to understanding possibilities of change. Building on research in cognitive science, organizational learning, and political theory, which finds emotions to be a crucial component of listening, I examine over sixty in-depth interviews with INGOs, donors, and researchers in peacebuilding. Based on these interviews, my dissertation makes three main arguments regarding how internationals’ emotions matter to listening in peacebuilding partnerships. First, internationals’ emotions impact internationals’ ability to listen receptively, that is, in a way that is open to new understandings and ways of doing things. Second, analyzing emotions reveals that many peacebuilding practices are still “sticky” with a colonial hierarchy where all the focus is on improving the local actor. Internationals thus keep the privilege of “invisibility” as political actors, leaving their own practices outside explicit contestation. I liken this privilege to an “invisibility cloak” which keeps internationals comfortable and able to carry on as usual without reason to change. And third, the analysis alerts us to emotional consequences for internationals who do attempt change, that is, to break the colonial hierarchy and listen receptively. The accompanying loss of privilege involved in shedding the invisibility cloak and “appearing” as political actors (with stakes in the partnership) involves vulnerability, discomfort, and uncertainty; the emotional is political. To make these arguments, I integrate feminist, decolonial, and queer scholarship into practicebased approaches. In addition to practical recommendations for how to develop embodied (personal, organizational, and geopolitical) change strategies, the dissertation provides empirical, methodological, and theoretical contributions to several scholarly fields.
... In the first two studies, Emily Beausoleil (2014Beausoleil ( , 2020c) draws on neuroscience and political theory to understand physiological and affective aspects of listening and recognition of marginalized groups. First, her examination of "The Politics, Science, and Art of Receptivity" (Beausoleil 2014) follows the development of a performance of interactive theater on homelessness. ...
... In the first two studies, Emily Beausoleil (2014Beausoleil ( , 2020c) draws on neuroscience and political theory to understand physiological and affective aspects of listening and recognition of marginalized groups. First, her examination of "The Politics, Science, and Art of Receptivity" (Beausoleil 2014) follows the development of a performance of interactive theater on homelessness. This project managed to move seasoned representatives from established institutions out of their rut of ineffective activities into new understandings and cooperative relationshipssimilarly to what peacebuilding actors try to achieve through equal partnerships. ...
... The use of the narrative or dialogic method (see Beausoleil, 2014) was most valuable as it allowed for all members, with a plurality of perspectives, to recall experiences and give voice to their values. The group work was managed by deliberately creating teams of knowledge holders from different backgrounds so that knowledge could be shared; different viewpoints aired and contentious issues raised 6 . ...
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Hybrid science-society approaches for knowledge production are often framed by a transdisciplinary approach. Most forms of “linear” progression of science informing policy or the “production” of knowledge as a one-way process are increasingly being challenged. This is also true for coastal and marine sciences informing decision-making to support sustainable development of coastal areas. From the early 2010s, South Africa had one of the most progressive and well-structured frameworks for the establishment of integrated coastal management (ICM) in order to achieve societal objectives for its valuable coastal area. Even so, the implementation of the legislation, policies and guidelines remain a challenge, especially at the local level in municipalities. This paper reports on a social experiment that was intended to examine the possibility for a new knowledge negotiation process to unsettle the highly structured, nested and regular policy process, which forms the basis of ICM in South Africa. This paper reflects on an experimental application of a participatory methodology known as a “competency group” to co-produce knowledge for coastal and marine management. The group members, a combination of codified, tacit and embedded knowledge holders, agreed to serve on a competency group and met on six occasions over a 12-month period in 2013. This group “negotiated” amongst themselves to achieve a common understanding of knowledge useful for the management of beach water quality on the Golden Mile, the prime beachfront of Durban, a South African city. The paper provides a novel lens into a potentially distinctive, challenging and imminently useful approach of co-producing knowledge for coastal governance, especially in a middle-income country where the social and political context is complex.
... Certain conditions might induce anxiety among citizens, such as when they are asked to remain open to the unfamiliar, uncomfortable and radically different (Bickford 1996;Morrell 2010). To enter into political discussions with a listening, open and pragmatic stance means that what takes place in the discussion has the potential to profoundly change, or even undermine, one's existing views, opinions and even identity (Beausoleil 2014). Consequently, there is a constant risk of backlash of deliberation when participants resort to stereotypical and prejudicial thinking and established scripts of mind because it 'reduces the burden of understanding complex social environments' (Lillis and Hayes 2007: 390). ...
The quality of deliberative conversations are dependent on citizens compliance with deliberative norms yet there is a lack of methods to assess norm compliance in discussions. Here, the psychological construct of complexity of thinking is claimed to conceptually correspond to the deliberative conversational ideal and adopted as a measurement of deliberative norm compliance. The hypothesis that citizens' complexity of thinking increases as a result of participation in deliberative conversations was tested in a minipublic case study in Sweden. Participants' complexity of thinking was assessed before and after deliberation by responding to an open‐ended question about the topic of debate. Manual coding was used to rate participants integrative complexity. The result confirms the hypothesis, which serves as an indicator of deliberative quality. The study also demonstrates that women get higher increases in complexity, as do highly agreeable individuals and those who hold more liberal views. The findings demonstrate the potential usefulness of integrative complexity as a measurement of deliberative quality.
... Something, perhaps my fluctuating process of identifying myself with the tourists while actively resisting that identification for my preferred new identity as an Azorean, left me open to be receptive to change my underlying thinking (cf. Beausoleil, 2014). The open-ended research methods that I initially chose to try to reduce the effect of my expectations were successful in that they provided an opportunity for me to hear things that provoked deeper questions then I had been asking which has drawn me and the world of research into the research problem. ...
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Sustainable development (SD) is a controversial concept informed by conflictual narratives which reshape the way we envision the earth, the sea and the stars. Its integration in international policies and national strategy plans for development influences the ways we now know the past, our understanding of the present, and our paths to the future. It influences our lives through policies that regulate daily practices, such as the European Common Fisheries Policy which focuses its strategies for SD in trade and education. However, the problems faced by the ocean require understanding sustainable marine ecosystems through the complex interactions between ecological, social, economic and political dimensions. Analysing the intersection of those dimensions, while respecting peoples’ voices, allowed us to identify how policies and regulations for SD fail, and opened spaces for an emancipatory reflexive research on SD: responsible, accountable and transformative. This approach inevitably raised questions of environmental justice that challenged us to look critically at research and education norms for SD, as well as question how the deficit-model of research is built on the assumption that the failures of SD are due to lack of knowledge. In this article we bring together research experience on education and research practices, overlapping our reflexive and educational practices, with the Azores archipelago in Portugal as our background, in order to explore other possibilities. With the help of Augusto Boal´s Theatre of the Oppressed, we explore the potential of multi-directional learning via aesthetic practices and action-based research to enable narrative inquiry to engage people in research, and SD policy development that are environmentally just and sustainable.
This paper stems from two problematic topics encountered in the Copenhagen School’s securitisation theory (ST) scholarship and its developments. The first is the clash of ontologies among the different approaches to the theory, being two of them the political and sociological approaches. The second arises not only from the questioned role of the audience within the theory but also from its imprecise definition even after the advent of what can be called the ‘audience turn’. As some authors have paved the road for a more rigorous definition of the audience, there is still a cognitive gap between the securitising move and its acceptance that needs to be understood in its fullness. Given these points, this work offers a solution for the above conundrums by asking ‘what does securitisation do?’ instead of ‘what is securitisation?’. This shift results in the recognition of the audience’s agency in the form of accountability for accepting the securitising move. Moreover, this new focus stresses the constant motion needed to construct reality, resulting in two more properties credited to the audience’s definition: fluidity and multiplicity. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to emphasise the relevance of securitisation’s transformational power by revising and criticising the polarisation of the current literature, and at the same time to address not only the ‘problem of the audience’ but the cognitive gap within the securitisation process.
This article presents the emerging transdisciplinary practice of Experimental Heritage as performed within an ongoing Irish-Swedish research project involving artists and archaeologists. The project is undertaken simultaneously in western Ireland and south-eastern Sweden. It explores the chosen Irish and Swedish landscapes of Clare and Öland, their similarities and differences, with the aid of combined and integrated artistic and archaeological practices. The starting points for common explorations are: stone and water, movement and time/the multitemporal, and the tangible and intangible aspects of landscape experience. In a transdisciplinary process, we explore new ways of combining art, archaeology and heritage within and between these landscapes. One path towards fulfilling the aims is to explore art, archaeology and heritage through the senses. A phenomenological landscape perspective and an eco-cultural approach is combined with Performance Studies and movement-based practice. These perspectives and methodologies are paired with artistic and archaeological approaches to research, such as those conducted through poetry, music, performance, visual arts, physical surveys, mapping and excavations. Methods of working have developed from walking in the landscape to sketching, through visuals, sound and movement, group dialogue, team building and exploring the materiality of making. Group movement-based workshops are used to support receptivity and inner listening for decision making through somatic principles and the senses. The project encourages transdisciplinary as well as translocal practice to arrive at new approaches and perspectives on how the past matters to us in the present and how it might have an impact on the future. To achieve both transdisciplinary and translocal ways of working through art and archaeology/heritage, we need to expand beyond conventional art and archaeology/heritage research, communication and presentation within the well-known framework of universities, cultural history museums and art institutions. The constraints of these conventions are substituted by alternative settings in the landscape. This landscape-based practice includes method development across disciplines, times and geographic distances. It also includes collaborations with people from local communities that can contribute their perspectives, experiences and stories to the explorations. The advantage of Experimental Heritage as practice in the landscape is its ability to challenge our current worldview to better understand other times and cultures as well as our own. This in turn provides us with new tools to create alternative futures resting on care and respect for the need for diversity and breaking not only with boundaries set up between nature and culture but also hierarchies of centre and periphery. We intend to find out more about the multitemporal layers in the landscapes surrounding us and how they relate to our inner landscapes of multitemporal perception. The combination and equal roles of artists and archaeologists as well as the contributions of researchers and members of the local communities in this work is crucial. Equality and diversity encourage transdisciplinary knowledge development.
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This paper considers political agency and space as found in Cavarero's For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression in order to take a critical philosophical approach to human rights education (HRE) and the political implications of its increasingly legal discourse. Like Arendt, Cavarero is concerned with a radical rethinking of political space, as not limited to place or legal borders, but bound by our human condition of plurality and relationality. Both Arendt and Cavarero want politics to be coupled with justice, nevertheless, Cavarero provides a notion of politics that lets us think beyond territorial terms of a polis, which opens for exploring an expanded conceptualization of human rights politics, as not bound by national legislative measures, but as concerning political action in-between human beings. In contrast to the dominant discourse on 'human rights experts' who frame the content for HRE, the notion of 'absolute local space' questions the dichotomy of universal/particular in raising the importance of a plurality of unique voices who create a spectrum for the universality of rights.
Within participatory geography and relational aesthetic art literature there have been calls to focus on how participation is framed, who is included and excluded, the types of relations involved and the effects of such practices. Linked to these concerns, questions have also been raised around how participants are framed and understood in participatory projects. For instance, as self-determining and knowing subjects who become politically affirmed through participation, or as subjects caught up in complex processes of becoming. In this article I show how the participatory art project ‘Productive Bodies’ in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, enabled participants to articulate the complex contradictions surrounding waged work, redundancy and unemployment. I suggest that participatory art projects can be a useful way for subjects to explore these complex processes of becoming. Useful because in this case, the project enabled participants to both acknowledge dominant disciplining discourses around waged work, while also creating space to imagine and enact alternatives to more dominant and limiting discourses. I argue that participatory art projects like Productive Bodies can help subjects move away from cognitive understandings of social change and political demands because the process understands subjects as always-already affected by wider societal discourses. Such an understanding recognises the complexity of subjectivities whereby subjects are both complicit in perpetuating and subjecting themselves to more dominant discourses, but also often desirous of change. Participatory art projects like Productive Bodies can enable subjects to articulate these complexities, while also catching glimpses of other selves and other societal relations through affectual-embodied encounters.
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In this paper, I argue that the recent work on mirror neurons illuminates the character of our capacities for a politics of resonant receptivity in ways that both help us to comprehend the damages of our contemporary order and suggest indispensable alternative ethical-strategic registers and possible directions for organising a powerful movement towards radical democracy. In doing so, neuroscience simultaneously contributes to our understanding of the possibility and importance of a more durable (less fugitive) radically democratic habitus. While the trope, 'radically democratic habitus', may seem oxymoronic in light of Bourdieu's extensive rendering of 'habitus', I suggest that research on mirror neurons discloses ways in which iterated practices and dispositional structures are crucial for democratic freedom.
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In this paper I present a model of receptivity that is composed of ontological and normative dimensions, which I argue answer to the critical-diagnostic and to the possibility-disclosing needs of democratic politics. I distinguish between 'pre-reflective receptivity,' understood ontologically as a condition of intelligibility, and 'reflective receptivity,' understood normatively as a condition of disclosing new possibilities.
The author addresses the field of infant mental health. He draws on his experience - in both the lab and the clinic - to present an integrated model of treatment for both infants and their parents.
Every philosophy seeks truth. Sciences too can be defined by this search, for from the philosophic eros, alive or dormant in them, they derive their noble passion. If this definition seems too general and rather empty, it will, however, permit us to distinguish two directions the philosophical spirit takes, and this will clarify its physiognomy. These directions interact in the idea of truth.