I do believe that this third draft is my strongest draft, but I will be so glad when it is completed.
According to Kate Lacey’s new book, Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age, listening has become a forgotten area of study in the field of communications. And for Lacey, this lapsed in understanding of listening has had far reaching consequences, not only in the field of communications, but the realm of politics as well.
Lacey’s central argument is that listening is currently viewed as a passive activity by the communications field. What is key to understanding Lacey’s argument is her definition of passive listening. This can be difficult, as she does not clearly state her definition forthright. But for Lacey, characteristics of passive listening include: little concentration, lack of involvement, and does not move an individual to some sort of action. The evidence she gathers to support her conclusions come primarily through historical research. In fact the majority of the text focuses on the development of privatized listening habits over the last century and a half, and only somewhat on the correlation between listening and politics.
What her analysis shows, however, is that as new technologies developed, society began creating new ways to use the technology to communicate with one another. New techniques pertaining to these devices were created, and demand increased. Hence they became more commonplace and affordable.
As technology became more affordable, it began to be marketed more for private use in the home. By doing this, listening began to be viewed as more of a “private” activity, where an individual would be in control over what she or he listened to. Lacey states “…the dominant trend through this history was towards the privatization and individualization of the listening public via the technological and textual inscription of an idealized and domesticated listener…” (p. 132) Previously listening was viewed as more of a public activity, where individuals would have little control over what they heard, but where more openly engaged in the politics and activities of the community.
As technology grew, society began to see it as the great class equalizer, which would be able to assist poorer classes reach new heights of success and education. According to Lacey, as broadcasters began to conduct market research and ratings polling, they noticed that the more “intellectual/educational” programming was not receiving the listenership broadcasters had hoped for. Hence they began to replace these programs with shows that would have more of a mass appeal. This shift in programming focus had a fundamental effect. “During the formative years of broadcasting, this passivity was understood by some as being imposed on the listener by the mass address that spoke to no-one as someone, and everyone as anyone, denying the possibility of active engagement, personal development or equality of response.” (p. 114)
But why is passive listening so important to Lacey? And how does it tie into the political realm? If you are active, then you are engaged in the world, according to Lacey. “Listening is at the heart of what it means to be in the world, to be active, to be political.” (p. 163) This individualization that had occurred began to take the individual out of the world. They were no longer engaged. And the culture of listening as a passive activity took prominence. To reverse this trend, Lacey concludes that the communications field needs to review its standpoint on listening. “The politics of listening is an important corrective to conceptualizations of public participating that are restricted to notions of speech, dialogue, and text… theories and practices of media communication and public life miss too much if they don’t give the politics and experience of listening a fair hearing.” (p. 199)
Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age, raises many thought provoking questions, and presents ideas/ theories that the communications field should study more. Portions of her argument on the interconnectedness between listening and politics are especially intriguing. Lacey’s research gives credence and support to the statement: “To state simply – without a listener, speech is nothing, but noise in the ether.” (p. 166)
However this book leaves many questions unanswered. Lacey’s identification of a lack of understanding of listening is provided. But then what? What can the communications field do to improve this lack of understanding, other than more research? She ties the societal concerns into her argument, but then discusses how to alleviate the societal concerns. Is passivity the only explanation? How does an individual’s attention span play into how she or he listens? Additionally the historical research does weigh the text down. It would have been helpful to have additionally insights and descriptions on how listening effects politics.