Centre for Cultural Partnerships - Theses

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    Beyond voice poverty: new economies of voice and the frontiers of speech, listening and recognition
    DE SOUZA, POPPY ( 2015)
    The unsettling effects of neoliberal culture - with its shaking loose of the social connections that bind individuals to each other, instead placing them within increasingly competitive and entrepreneurial markets - together with the uncertainties that come with new configurations of technology, bring with them an urgent desire to reclaim a sense of agency over the structures and processes that shape daily life. As narratives of ‘democratisation’ and ‘decline’ emerge as the dominant tropes for thinking through these complex cultural shifts, voice has gained increasing currency as a frame and intervention into some of these impacts. Yet while both critical and popular accounts of voice are generally organised around these two divergent narratives, each is in no way distinct from the apparent paradox at the heart of advanced liberal democracies: specifically, that individual liberty and freedom of expression are contingent upon distributed structures of power and control that shape the contours of what is and is not ‘narratable’; who is heard and who listens; and designate which categories of voice are made to matter. This thesis takes up an interdisciplinary frame to intervene in these debates and investigates the shifting meanings, practices and values of voice in the context of this contemporary landscape. It critiques prevailing notions of voice grounded in an intersubjective, relational ethics and unpacks some of the assumptions, values and norms that underpin both celebratory and crisis narratives. Part Two develops a framework for voice that accounts for new attachments and relationships between the categories of speech, listening and recognition as they take on new formations. I draw on several recent ‘limit cases’ that complicate existing notions of voice, and foreground emerging sites of struggle where neoliberal, informational and biopolitical forces intersect with modes of everyday cultural production and technosocial practice in distinctly provocative ways. These include: the Occupy Wall Street (OWS), digital storytelling (DST), free and open source software (F/OSS) and Quantified Self (QS) movements; the United States PRISM program; and the Right to be Forgotten. Despite attempts to re-humanise voice through a persistent appeal to the ethics of social relations, it is my contention that any account of voice must also account for the ways that speech, listening and recognition are increasingly attached to objects of value that circulate within new economies of voice. As such, I present a provisional framework for thinking about voice beyond its historical arrangement, one that pushes beyond current notions of voice poverty, towards new frontiers of voice.