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Conference presentation: Slow Listening and the unsettling ethics of attention in 'Curtain' the podcast

I will present a paper at the upcoming Politics of Listening conference, which I am co-convening with Tanja Dreher at UNSW, Sydney.

Title: Slow listening and the unsettling ethics of attention in Curtain the podcast

Abstract: From the over-incarceration and deaths in custody of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees on former Australian colonial territories, racialised carceral logics and state-sanctioned violence are at the heart of the settler- colonial Australian state. In this context, recent Australian podcast series such as Bowraville, Unravel: Blood on the Tracks, The Messenger, Breathless, and Curtain can be understood as sonic interventions which register the conditions of structural and racial injustice. Combining longform journalism with the intimacy and immediacy the audio medium, these podcasts hold the potential to raise awareness, mobilise action and advocate for change. Yet they also circulate in an uneven economy of attention that privilege ‘binge’, ‘on demand’ and ‘serial’ listening modes and media forms that increasingly sensationalise injustice-as-entertainment.

This presentation focuses on an ethics of listening in response to Curtain, an independently produced podcast series made by Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist Amy McQuire and Yuin man Martin Hodgson and which has broadcast over 60 episodes to date. Curtainexplores ‘the darkest parts of our criminal justice system’ and is committed to finding justice for Kevin ‘Curtain’ Henry, an Aboriginal man wrongfully incarcerated by the state of Queensland for over twenty-five years and currently ineligible for parole. Despite a dedicated First Nations and international audience, Australian audiences make up a small percentage of the podcast’s listenership, and the makers have expressed frustration at its limited media attention and non-Indigenous engagement. Responding to this concern, I bring an orientation towards sound into conversation with important scholarship on the politics of listening, and draw on critical temporalities of slowness (Berlant, 2007; Puar 2018) and endurance (Povinelli, 2011), to explore the multiple ways 'just hearings' in relation to First Nations struggles for justice are stalled, protracted and foreclosed. In paying attention to what gets in the way, I make a critical manoeuvre to register the conditions of life and labour for both the makers and subjects of the podcast, and gesture towards an ethics of slow listening that refuses the logic of desire and consumption at the heart of the attention economy.