Nick Couldry está no Brasil para palestras no Rio de Janeiro (UFF) e em São Paulo (USP) neste mês. Professor Titular de Mídia, Comunicação e Teoria Social no departamento de Media and Communications da LSE - London School of Economics and Political Science, o destacado sociólogo contemporâneo, pesquisador da mídia e da cultura, entende a mídia como “prática” e aborda a comunicação a partir da perspectiva do poder simbólico historicamente concentrado nas instituições de mídia. Couldry tem investigado como as infraestruturas de comunicação contribuem para vários tipos de ordem – social, política, cultural, econômica, ética. Além do trabalho na LSE, Couldry atuou na Goldsmiths University of London, além de ter sido professor visitante em importantes instituições de diversos países. Em 2018-2019, atua como Professor Associado do Centro Berkman Klein de Harvard para Internet e Sociedade, e como Professor Visitante do MIT. Nick Couldry é autor/organizador de 14 livros, sendo os mais recentes The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating Life for Capitalism (com Ulises Mejias: Stanford UP) e Media: Why It Matters (Polity), ambos no prelo
Há exatamente três anos, em maio de 2016, Nick Couldry concedeu a Laura Guimarães Corrêa, integrante da diretoria do CISECO e pesquisadora visitante na LSE à época, a entrevista “Revisiting Why Voice Matters and reflecting on voice and the city”, em sua sala no Departamento de Mídia e Comunicação da LSE. Myria Georgiou, também professora da LSE, contribuiu na elaboração das perguntas e participou dessa rica conversa que durou uma hora, rendeu muitas páginas e ótimas reflexões. Na entrevista, Couldry fala das possibilidades das pessoas relatarem a si mesmas, da influência de Richard Sennett em seu trabalho, da lógica neoliberal, do lugar da academia e da atuação dos/as acadêmicos/as, das vozes na cidade, de movimentos e desigualdades, de tempos e espaços que podem incluir ou excluir. A entrevista teve como base o Why Voice Matters (Sage, 2010), importante livro de Couldry finalizado há cerca de dez anos.
Em 2019, o CISECO também completa também dez anos de existência, que serão comemorados com a realização do Pentálogo X em Japaratinga. A proposta temática deste ano gira em torno de “Comunicação, Aprendizagem, Sentidos”, com ênfase nos conceitos de “extensão, mediação, interfaces e bifurcações”. Discutiremos, em novembro, modelos comunicacionais que arquitetam e se projetam sobre o funcionamento de práticas sociais afetando condições de suas ofertas de sentidos, aprendizados de saberes e de apropriação de conhecimentos. A interrelação proposta entre comunicação midiática / circulação / midiatização / educação, entre outras conexões, pretende possibilitar uma multiplicidade de intercâmbios transversais. Nas reflexões em/sobre semiótica e comunicação, observamos fenômenos relacionados às condições de produção de sentidos no contexto neoliberal, com o reconhecimento de que a midiatização em seu estágio atual afeta o funcionamento de todas as práticas sociais, gerando complexidades crescentes. A noção de semiótica aberta nos ajuda a trilhar o caminho da interface interdisciplinar que vai nos permitir observar fenômenos de produção de sentidos nas interdiscursividades e nas ligações entre saberes.
Assim, para enriquecer nosso debate, trazemos as reflexões de Nick Couldry, que dialogam com a proposta temática e conceitual do CISECO. Em tempos de ameaças à universidade, à voz e à democracia, as discussões que Why Voice Matters provoca estão mais atuais do que nunca. A entrevista estava inédita até agora, quando aproveitamos a visita de Couldry ao Brasil para compartilhá-la aqui no site. Por enquanto, apenas em inglês, mas com planos de publicação ainda este ano em português. Boa leitura.
Revisiting Why Voice Matters and reflecting on voice and the city
an interview with Nick Couldry
Laura Guimarães Corrêa¹ and Myria Georgiou² : The city is a space that carries long histories of protest, dissent, and dissensus. At the same time it is a site of extreme inequalities and divides. How does your conceptualisation of voice help us understand the city as a contradictory political space?
Nick Couldry: I wasn't developing the concept of voice specifically with cities in mind, although I have read quite a long literature on cities. So the idea of voice is the possibility of giving an account of oneself and of society on a wider scale being organised in such a way that people's giving an account of oneselves can be registered, can make a difference to how things get decided, how things get changed and so on and so forth, and that potentially could apply to cities.
But there is in fact a hidden connection between my work on voice and thinking about the city, so I am very glad you asked the question. Because a most inspiring writer to me early on, before I was an academic and I wasn’t even thinking about that or possibly doing a doctoral research or whatever, was Richard Sennett. I discovered in 1994, when I was just doing my master's or maybe just before that, his book “The Conscience of the Eye”. Towards the beginning of that book he makes a really profound point which is not a major theme in his work but I think this makes sense with a lot of his work on cities – and also on class) which is that: how space is organised, the way it is configured in terms of meeting points or non-meeting points and so on - space as a free space of exchange, space as a controlled space - has an enormous impact on what stories people can tell. He also hints about this in “The Fall of Public Man” book, which comments on the way media close down some narratives and encourage others. But, for me, his approach to the city is deeply informed by the problems of communication, even though he is writing from outside the communications research he doesn't give that his main emphasis but it is very very distinctive and a very inspiring point or those interested in communication. So way way back, I took this from his work (in this he is almost unique among social urban theorists), as it seems to me that voice – or, more importantly, possibilities of voice, or material conditions which exclude the possibilities of voice – and the city, the way space is organised and articulated, are connected. And I didn’t find many other people picking that up from Cultural Studies, Sociology and so on. But I have always seen that in Sennett’s work, as you can see on Chapter 6 on the book: I discuss Sennett there in detail and he is one of the key people that lie behind the very idea that I could write a book about something called voice.
So, how we would work that through in practice? I think that space can work to build certain hidden exclusions and make it literally impossible for certain types of people to speak to other types of people. This happens all the time, but working in such a powerful way that no one even sees it as an exclusion: such speaking is just not within the realm of the possible. Yet it had once been possible because it has been excluded through material structures. For instance, the cleaners in this building – I happen to know them in the hours they are still here when they are finishing - but normally time and space are arranged so that we don’t meet. And we don’t feel this is an exclusion, because we don’t see it as such, we don’t encounter it, but they encounter it and may see it as an exclusion. Which also relates to the other thing about the narratives of the city, that they are generally dominated by big institutions – governments, corporations and so on: hose who are trying to sell the city, those with economic interests in the city, generally (but not always) don’t emphasise these questions of deep exclusion because they are uncomfortable, difficult and they go too far into inner workings of the city. But of course they are crucial to having cities enable or exclude voice, so it is really important to do more work than I do in the book to extend the concept, to think about voice in relation to the extremely complex spaces that cities are.
That is all to stress the negative side, but there is also a positive side which is that cities operate in many different connected dimensions: they enable freedoms, freedoms to be different, to exist differently, to speak differently with no consequence, without risk – although yes, under certain limited conditions which are part of the freedom and the joy of living in cities, that those who live in cities need. And they are real, those freedoms are real in cities as well, but they also exist alongside many deep “unfreedoms”.
LGC: I think these restrictions also provoke creativity in the places people cannot reach, but sometimes can create their freedom or their voice.
MG: I am thinking especially about that element of history, how you have these parallels in history, of growing inequalities. You can say in certain ways cities might be going in these cycles of extreme inequalities. You cannot say that London today is more unequal than Victorian London, but it is unequal in perhaps different ways in the height of capitalism, comparing to earlier times in modernity. If we think about the way that we have these parallels, of growing inequalities, certain forms of inequality and in the other hand there are histories of protests, and again I am thinking: is there something in these deep inequalities that might actually generate dissent in cities and in different ways in other places?
NC: Well, I think possibly yes, because in cities, although people's lives are separated often in very rigid and effective ways, people at some level can recover the idea that they exist alongside others who are very different from themselves and much more privileged perhaps, they can recover that. And they can recover it perhaps more easily than you can in the countryside where there are very big houses, but villages don't have spaces where people can come together – or not in the same way, not in such a variety of places as where people come together in a supermarket, Times Square or wherever it might be. In cities, there are unexpected possibilities of interaction which can't be controlled in full. When people go home in a tube train late at night and they are drunk, they start laughing, and a different type of communication opens up which is never possible during the day. It is always very interesting to see how everyone recognizes the rules and enjoys being together.
We exist in a world where there are more and more attempts to incorporate and to regulate spaces. And governments develop that as well. The government in Britain tried for a long time to regulate the space outside the Parliament, to pass legislation to prevent protest there. And governments attempt to do this, but it is vital that they are not successful, because there is a game over cultural spaces, urban spaces. Everyone acknowledges that there are spaces towards which people can gather for unspecified purposes, maybe to say something, maybe to do something, maybe to find something together, through the act of coming together, find the collective voice.
But that is only possible if the space has not already been prestructured. Shopping malls, for example, are deeply prestructured spaces, that is their point, and in a way that is a parallel to Jodi Dean's vision of the logic of the internet which is also prestructured although that is a too bleak view of the internet. But thinking creatively about the structural possibilities of urban space for communication now has possibilities for comparison: in a way we are thinking about the increasingly complex multidimensional space of online communication, which is so much more complex than communications ecologies we were thinking about until ten years ago, fifteen years ago.
So that makes the analytic problems of linking urban studies with communication even more relevant today. Because this becomes an example of the broader topic which is the ecology of communication generally, which we know it is important online, it has always been important in cities. So, that is a new way in which the relevance which this deep problem of thinking about communication in cities now has right across the whole domain of communications. So I think there is this deeper link. I am not sure if my concept of voice helps except in a preliminary way - to start a certain questioning -, it is not designed to think about cities as such. There is only one part of the book which you specifically could relate to city which is a part of Chapter 5 where I think about voice in complex societies and I am thinking about how, for spaces where it is absolutely possible for everyone to speak and everyone to hear each other - how nonetheless do we underwrite the possibility of voice? One way we may have to do that is to agree to certain processes of exchange whereby people know there is an opportunity for voices like that, statements like this, to be responded to at a certain point, face to face, there is someone they can go to and speak to, there is a place where they can receive a response, where a reflection on the response can be heard, registered.
Structures or, as Jim Macnamara in Australia has recently put it, ‘architectures of listening’ become very, very important. He is a media studies PR specialist in Australia³ thinking about how governments normally fail to listen and in thinking about how they deal with what he comes up with this notion of missing ‘architectures of listening’. And, although he is certainly not an urban studies person, he is very striking for a metaphor he chose for the complex, ordered, hierarchical space that enables certain possibilities of exchange which without that structure they would never have, or only randomly, incidentally. But cities and buildings can encourage sometimes interactions and give them a special importance for residents and so on. So I think there is a lot to be explored in terms of urban studies, and also architecture thinking as a part of that, in relation to voice and extending the concept of voice beyond its starting point that I offered in the book.
LGC: Thinking about the materiality of architecture and urbanism, looking at the glass and steel buildings in the City, for example, we notice that they are very silent, in the sense that you can't find a place where you can get inside. And they separate people who are inside and outside, blocking the conversation. When I look at these small unofficial expressions in the city, I see them as cries saying that there are people in the city, not just glass and steel.
NC: Architecture hasn't always been silent, Sennett talks about that on his book "Conscience of the Eye", but these glass skyscrapers, which I think are beautiful to look at, make graffiti absolutely impossible: there is no way you can write on that surface, it is simply not possible and that is deliberate, that is not accidental. The everyday ways of going on within those buildings, in normal ways, just like any other, depend on the existence of this absolute barrier, since outside voices cannot enter.
So that relates to our way of thinking about materiality that I was talking about, the material forms of voice, the material conditions that make voice absolutely impossible and one of those, as you say, is this sort of building, urban structures that are resolutely non-porous, which refuse porosity. That is what Sennett, way back at the beginning of his career, in "The Uses of Disorder", was insisting on in criticizing urban design. That is again to underline the point that a certain type of urban thinking has always talked about communication although Sennett never framed it necessarily in that way, but there is a chance to recover that link. True, I hadn't thought about that while writing the book, but as you ask me the question, it becomes obvious that is an important strategy to make that connection.
MG and LGC: Cities – especially global cities like London – are centres of financial and symbolic power. In Why Voice Matters you argue that “spaces for voice are therefore inherently spaces of power”. What is the potential of global cities as the par excellence powerful cities to enable or restrict voice, dissensus and dissent?
NC: Well, starting from the positive, there is no doubt that being part of a big city, feeling you can survive, you can make a family, and enable those you love to survive in a big, complex, difficult city, authorises a certain confidence in people, because this is an achievement, this is a practical achievement. And when cities come together, when there are great sporting victories, this happens in smaller size cities, like Leicester (I have been there this week), this whole city comes together and it is a very exciting and unforgettable experience, to feel what a city is, as a sort of collectivity. Those big narratives are important, but they have to be seen alongside the everyday combination of smaller groups of people being fully authorised to speak, having very easy routes towards speaking. And most do not have those spaces or easy routes. The resources for voice are extremely unevenly distributed, there is very little research on that as a topic in fact, but this is a very important topic.
The bigger picture of how that happens, how resources of voice are unevenly distributed, because it is not really recognised as a front-stage topic in Sociology, tends itself not to be recognised, it just happens. But the effects of it are very real, people feel them, they know the feeling of going into a building and knowing they can't speak and being struck down by its sense of power, the sense that this is a kind of place where they are not welcome. This is an everyday experience for many people, for it is controlled in terms of class, so that may be a security guard, in the building, but they cannot speak. They absolutely do not count in relation to other people who do count, and everyone knows that. This aspect of empowerment, in my view - you might disagree - is very neglected in sociology. There isn't a sociology of voice nor for the same reason by definition a sociology of urban voice, or of the relation of cities to voice, and I think there should be, because you can see cities as machines which you can regulate and control voice, that is what they are at the highest level of complexity. There is a massive amount more to do in order to build on these links. Which is not to say that cities aren't very exciting places to be in, they authorise all sorts of voice for everyone under certain conditions which can be genuinely inclusive, they are much more inclusive than for example country life.
MG: And I am also thinking of the urban time as well. You have the urban space creating different systems of regulation of voice in allowing and restricting voice, but how important is also time in regulating voice, in the way that you mentioned, denying the common. There are boundaries and divides of those who are allowed to have a presence and a voice at different times. In London, at six o'clock in the morning, it is the time of the cleaners, when they can make use of the streets. At nine o'clock, they are not allowed to use them anymore, because the streets are taken over by lawyers, then the authority changes, which I think is very much connected to that order that is both spacial and in tempo in the city in a way that perhaps is different from the countryside.
NC: Yes. Well, it is time-space packing, as the Swedish geographer Hägerstrand talked about: you have to know how to think about the organisation of space, the organisation of time, and the organisation of the two together, in time-space packing because there are too many people for the spaces, so there has to be a hierarchy in spatial use and time. That by definition means that certain types of people do not encounter other types of people. Space is arranged so they can't, which means the possibility of voice is reduced, not as an intention, but as an automatic side effect of the organisation of space. But as far as I know, there is very little work on this sort of issue, although Neil Smith was writing a lot about homeless and exclusion in the late eighties and early nineties emphasizing scale and exclusion, which is another way of looking at it: some people have the option to range across wherever they want to go, they have a pass to everywhere; others can't venture outside their few streets because it is not safe, they don't feel confident, they don't know whether they are going to fit in. These differences in people's psychic geography obviously have been picked up on in geography. But, as far as I know, they haven't been so much linked to the organisation of communications, which is obviously what in part they are about: they tend to be seen more in terms of people's inner identities, their internalizations of structures rather than the tools in their hands to communicate which are also unevenly distributed as well. So, taking a book from Richard Sennett "The Hidden Injuries of Class", which is such a profound book, in thinking about internal structures, how people internalize class division and how they externalize that in stories they tell of the world and their place in it. Extending that to think about how those internalizations work, so they can be used as communication tools and platforms, no one has ever done that very much. So there is a tremendous amount to explore once you put urban studies and voice together as part of the same problematic.
MG: I think some of the recent anthropological and sociological work in infrastructures uses some of this language while still ignoring communication, which is very interesting, like for example Ash Amin talking about the lively infrastructures, but still not thinking about them as the way they organise or regulate our ability to talk to each other. So I think space, and perhaps voice, can be one of these tools to think about infrastructures of speaking.
LGC and MG: You wrote: “Since we persist in time, an irreducible dimension of what we must each understand is how we persist in time: how ‘what I am’ is ‘what I have become’” (p.97) Cities are constantly going through processes of change and transformation. People persist in time but, for many and diverse reasons, rarely persist in (the same) space. How could these movements - gentrification of cities and migration, for example - affect people’s narratives and voices? How can these phenomena affect “what people can become”?
NC: Well, again, that takes the link between voice and space, and then considers it more from the point of view of the individual who carries a narrative. There is no doubt, as we know, that as we move across space with our hopes and dreams and our disappointments and memories and so on, our narratives change, the accounts we give of ourselves necessarily change. We are constantly reinterpreting and reflecting back on them. Sometimes it is a major migration to another continent, and whatever we go through, that changes the narrative. Maybe we are forced to, in some degrees, to change who we are. In a way, in a spatial domain there is a parallel to what Bourdieu thought about when he tried to build change into his model of habitus: habitus for him is predetermined in terms of underlying class dispositions, but they come into conflict with the actual structures of the world in creating dissonances and conflicts which force new invention and reaction.
We can see that operating in space as well: as people move around the world, there may be conflicts and contributions generated. But there is another side to that as well, apart from this idea that moving across space creates the material for voice, which it definitely does. At the same time, just because voice requires a material form, it is not something that automatically just comes out into the world from inside, it has to find a form, otherwise it can't be spoken, it can't be exchanged. This is one thing that does not necessarily follow you when you move in space. You may have the sense of dislocation, travelling, no longer being able to be the way you once were. That doesn't mean to say you carry with you the words that will describe what it is that has now changed. There may be not that form of expression for various reasons. One might be because you don't count anymore, no one wants to hear what you think, no one cares whether you feel at home or not, it doesn't matter, you just need to fit in and get on with it. In that case there is not precisely another material form available for you to express the sense of dislocation. Maybe you yourself wouldn't know where to begin, but the change is somehow difficult to express and you have no one to work it through with collectively, so it becomes a repressed pain, a sort of cost that you just carry and that affects everything you do, but not in a way that you can open out as a narrative. So, moving across space does not necessarily generate more voice.
A very interesting book for me, which again, although it is about voice, doesn't talk about space, but it could do, coming the other way round, is by the writer Amin Maalouf. He is a Lebanese novelist, but he wrote a theoretical book once and it is called "On Identity" (this is the title in English). What that book is about is the reality of being Lebanese with four or five major identities and how his resentment of standard identity discourse which is impossible for him, as he lives never one or two identities, but always a constant movement across five or six, constantly thinking, revising, troubling. How can we find a language, a cultural and political theory, to accept that, and to respect that, and register that as a positive thing? It is a very interesting book because he brings out practical challenges that many people face all the time.
Kevin Robins’ work on Turkish migrants fifteen years ago was based in the material complexity they had to live, which was being Turkish in a poor part of London, remaining connected to Turkey, but not being able to speak about that. It is not something that could be pushed into a simple sense of this or that identity or a simple change of identity from A to B. It was much more complex. Communication in cities involves migration, moves in time and space. So, we have to think about this question about narrative and time, and movement in time across space, but in terms of a problematic that needs to be opened up now, it is something that is a very real issue for people.
We do not necessarily have an adequate empirical language to describe it yet, and we certainly may not have an adequate theoretical language to frame it in terms of its challenges. That was what I was trying to open up in Chapter 6 of the book, to open up many different ways of thinking about what constrains voice, what makes voice (even though it seems to be possible) in reality absolutely impossible. How can people fight those conditions? I have just insisted this is a deep and neglected problem in the Social Sciences but it has not been framed that way, it has been framed in terms of other things... identity, ethnic, social, other, preserving social reproduction or institutions, this deep area of contestation which lies in the resources to describe oneself, give an account of oneself. Cities have this enormous impact both to transform and enable, and also to destroy and crush, voice. This is one of the most powerful aspect of cities. We need to recover that link. We cannot have any answers yet, because we have only just begun to do this work.
MG: As you were talking, I thought about Stuart Hall who talks about migrants as being always in translation, because they are always trying to speak with a voice that communicates in their new encounters. To me it is an interesting idea to link to what you were saying, it creates an open-endedness, being always in translation, that porosity of communication, and of course he draws from Derrida as well, in his différance, that is a kind of constant process – incomplete and inconclusive, but possible. That kind of translation, you have to have it, it is a constant process when you live in a city like London, not only when you cross space.
NC: What I feel about Hall's work, and the sort of Cultural Studies we had until the mid-nineties, late nineties, is that he was very good in seeing these areas of problem that needed more work, the need to pay attention to the instability of identities as a site of contention. He brought on certain very big theoretical tools to point in that direction. But he was less good in actually building that into a model of empirical enquiry and registering this on the ground as it is actually experienced. There is much less work on applying such abstract analysis: it needs a project of empirical research, informed by more mid-range concepts rather than big concepts such as différance. That is my critique of the way Hall's works are used and turned into a discussion of psychoanalysis which I think individualizes it too much, far away from social urban studies. Les Back's work on the other hand does try to work with more precise aspects of this and his work is very strong is this area.
Just to give you an example, Les Back opens up issues about urban identity, thinking about people's experience with music, which is another big dimension of cities: you go out in the streets you hear music from people's cars, from the shops, in headphones. We experience, we impose, sound on space or have it imposed onto our space, and we don't necessarily make sense of that, and yet it is part of the experience of certain cities as consonance or dissonance. This is another area: people's sense of sound and space. There is some work on that area, but there is a great deal more work that could be done about people's sense the role of music in space.
LGC: Some people do research and write in this area, recording and analysing soundscapes...
NC: But it hasn't yet been laid back into a broader sociology of spaces where people feel authorised in to speak, there are all these other connections that could be made.
In one of your questions you talk about graffiti and the need for visibility, which is another dimension, I think visibility is also important, but I think a figure like Banksy is absolutely, completely exceptional. For whatever reason that I don't fully understand, he was able to go from being an unknown graffiti artist, to becoming a celebrity, a sort of anti-celebrity or both. But most graffiti remains neglected, unseen, absolutely not legible to others. Therefore, it is only voice in a very particular way, something that is expressed in a routine way but that is not read, except by a small, specialist community who knows what the tag means. So it is a problematic type of voice, that brings out that visibility is important - it's one of the preconditions of life, having some material presence in a material world where voice can be expressed - but it also requires other conditions like legibility, the ability to be understood, the ability of making voice stick in a certain way so that change can happen. At the moment graffiti does not change anything: when it is rubbed out, nothing has changed, it is gone. So it is not voice in the way we want voice to be. And yet it is not unimportant against the background of absolute exclusion. It is not nothing, but it is not equivalent to the ‘something’ we call voice. There are many different levels of material conditions that contribute to voice actually counting: visibility can be one of them, but also mutual visibility. As for Hannah Arendt in her inspiring and transformative comments about the space of appearance: in that space, just as I can see you, you can see me; when I speak, I know you can hear me; I know you are watching me just as I am watching you when you are speaking. So we have multiple encounters as we exchange, that is the basis of the beginnings of the possibilities of respect. But graffiti is more asymmetrical because it is done secretly in the night, we don't know who by, and then it is read by people many of whom don't understand the reality of who produces it. Some voices like this, some traces, are very complicated in terms of what they mean, of what effects they have.
LGC, MG: In “Why voice matters”, you mention the pervasive influence of neoliberal rationality in many realms, and, in certain parts, briefly, also in academic work. There is the “duty to brand ourselves” (p.35), “the lack of time for reflexivity (in government)” (p.85) etc. You also cite Robert Lane: “work and work mastery are the sources of very great pleasure”. You have mentioned the absence of narratives about the life of an academic teacher in neoliberal times. How do you see the roles, pleasures and struggles in contemporary academic life, considering (and / or challenging) the neoliberal context?
NC. I do think one can't really talk about voice without thinking about the conditions for exercising academic voice. Where I would start is with that we must never forget our privilege as people who are normally authorised to speak, to be read. It is not true in every country, of course, it depends on the place, ethnicity etc. But broadly speaking, this type of role does, generally speaking, carry a privilege. We must never forget that, because our privilege is of a different order from the exclusion of most people. Everyone does not really care about what they have to say, they have learned that over time, they know that. We don't face that situation, we have a different possibility. Yet, we have to go on with all the constraints of the job. And at the same time we have to take very seriously the possibility that there's a systematic attempt to erode this privilege which has been going on for decades. One only has to go back to books written, 30, 40, 50 years ago and realise they were written in a different universe from the one we now inhabit as academics. A zone of great freedom in terms of how to plan your intellectual life, what you read, how you use your time, which does not exist now. Some of the forms of erosion of voice are hard to challenge because we are doing the eroding. Our practices as academics, well-behaved academics, trying to get on, trying to better our career, trying to support others, the careers of others (if we're already in a position where we're full professors), we are ourselves maintaining the procedures through which our voice's source is eroded, that's our role, even our job, at times, so we are deeply complicit in this. So how do we deal with that? I think we have to always recognise this as a very paradoxical fact for example in our British academic culture. There was no fundamental culture of resistance to regulatory structures on research from the early 90s4. There was no culture of resistance. We just accepted it. We created little spaces for ourselves within the shadows, but we kept on doing it, we continue to go on doing it. So we cannot therefore start our discussion from a success, because we have failed for 25 years to resist a massive shift in the culture of academic life in Britain. So the only starting-point is to think, nonetheless not, grandly, about turning that system round, but rather about the possibilities for maintaining certain countercultural spaces, certain spaces where other values are respected, defended against the continued invasion of systematizing processes. That is what academic life for me is all now about, even if it is operating within the structures and trying to make them work as tolerably as possible.
That is not an easy battle, but I see all of us as having been involved in that battle. But we have to start from the fact that we failed. But I don't give up on the possibility that some of what one does in terms of the type of themes one chooses to research are part of that counterculture. That is why I chose to write about voice from the late 2000s, not just because of my depression at the politics of neoliberalism in Britain, but because I sensed neoliberalism was becoming the normal cultural environment of the British university as well, the two went together. That is why I decided to write about voice, that is why we are still talking about it, we have to go on talking about it, sharing our insights about these things, that is one of the very few things we can do.
MG and LGC.: “Why voice matters” was published in 2010. During these six years, there seems to be a backlash, in many countries (UK, USA, Brazil…), towards a de-democratization, and a weakening of government while the neoliberalism rationality provides the arguments for an emphasis in economic goals instead of social and cultural needs. Do you still see possibilities for a “new story”, as in the conclusion of the book?
NC: Yes, I do. I am not less optimistic than when I wrote the book. We have had a period of protest which I couldn't have anticipated in terms of the long-term delay of response to a financial crisis, as n movements like the Indignados in Spain, the Indignant Citizens Movement (Kínima Aganaktisménon-Politón) in Greece, and those were very exciting in making explicit what was in stake in neoliberalism, I did not have them as reference-points when I was finishing the book. That was a delayed reaction, and that is encouraging. Secondly, as a result of that, the hollowness of neoliberalism as a rationality has become clearer. Whether you are on the right or left, with the inevitability of neoliberalism generating ever more extreme new forms of voice, as with Donald Trump and his supporters, it is becoming ever clearer that the deal is a hollow one. The case of Spain, for example, the rise of political parties as Podemos, the revival of left parties, a united left, potential coalitions forming at the moment on the base of absolutely not accepting the neoliberal deal: this is still an encouraging sign, although very unresolved at this point. So there are rather more encouraging signs, politically, around voice than there were back in 2009 when I finished the book. But at the same time we have to recognize that voice can be a desperate force that emerges to the surface under enormous pressure because the repression of it has been so profound, so that when it emerges, it won't necessarily be in democratic forms, in fact it might often be in anti-democratic forms as with the Trump campaign, as in Germany the Alternative für Deutschland, Golden Dawn in Greece, and so many other places, and the very ambiguous dispute going on in Brazil and the so-called corruption and impeachment of Rousseff, and so on. So, what voice is, under particular conditions, is very uncertain, not necessarily democratic and I never pretended it was. Because the book was never about voice itself, it was about the conditions under which voice will matter. If we take that seriously, we have to take seriously the need to encourage voice which itself respects other voices and the need to discourage voice which refuses to respect other voices, which only gains its voice at the price of others not speaking. So the crisis we are in now, with the hollowness of neoliberalism, makes it more necessary to reconsider voice and the conditions under which voice matters but, in the past six years, at least, there have been some encouraging signs of new types of speaking up emerging and being connected to each other, both generally and in cities. But as yet, most things remain unresolved, so it is impossible to offer any predictions as to where we are going, positive or negative.
¹ Associate Professor at UFMG, Brazil; Visiting Fellow (2015-2016) at LSE.This interview was made possible by the financial support of Fapemig (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais) via edital Demanda Universal 2014; and Capes (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior) via Chamada II 2015 Estágio Pós-doutoral.
² Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE.
³ Distinguished Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Visiting Professor, LSE.
4 Couldry means the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) which became in 2014 the Ref (Research Excellence Framework).