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Conference presentation: Dwelling in Discomfort: On the Conditions of Listening in Settler Colonial Australia

Western Political Science Atssociation Conference April 2019

Panel Title: Conditions and Practices of Democratic Listening
Section: Political Theory and its Applications
Chair/Discussant: Susan Bickford
Paper 4:
Title:  Dwelling in Discomfort: On the Conditions of Listening in Settler Colonial Australia
Primary Author: Poppy de Souza 
Institutional Affiliation: Griffith University
Secondary Author: Tanja Dreher
Institutional Affiliation: University of New South Wales

Abstract: While critical scholarship on listening as a political practice has flourished in recent years, there remains much work to do on theorising political listening as a situated practice in specific contexts, including listening as a practice that might unsettle settler colonial relations. In this paper, we extend Susan Bickford’s pathbreaking work on political listening (1996) and our own theorisation of located listening in the Australian context (Dreher and de Souza, 2018) to offer provisional thoughts on the generative potential of refusal, discomfort, attunement and yielding. We take as our starting point the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart as a prompt and challenge for thinking about broader conditions of listening and being heard in settler colonial Australia. Culminating from the First Nations Constitutional Convention and following an unprecedented process of democratic deliberation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, the Uluru Statement clearly sets out the conditions of listening required in order for First Nations to be heard: a recognition of the authority and ontological primacy of First Nations peoples; a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament; and a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreement-making and local-level truth-telling. We argue it is vital to listen to Indigenous histories of refusal (rather than refusing to listen); to become more attuned to our differently located listening positions in response to the needs and desires of others; and ultimately yield to the authority of First Nations peoples to set the terms, frames and limits of recognition, within and beyond liberal and colonial logics. We suggest taking up responsibility to dwell in discomfort must also be part of the conditions of listening required to envision more just futures, with the sovereignty of First Nations people placed at its heart. Therefore, listening must be located within a decolonial framework to extend and unsettle conventional liberal democratic modes of deliberative listening.