Embodying an Ethics of Response-ability: Notes from the Moving Field

Stream: Panel 34 - Political Theory: Arts of Political Receptivity and Radical Democratic Power 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


In light of the epistemic violence that characterizes histories of encountering ‘others’ on uneven discursive terrain, political theorists have increasingly shifted the focus from the right to speak to the dynamics of listening across social difference. This shift from voice to receptivity is linked to increasingly affective models of ethical encounter in political theory– what I call a ‘dispositional ethics’ that construes responsibility as responsiveness. Recent articulations of such an ethics of encounter, notably in the most current work of Judith Butler, James Tully and Ella Myers, highlight the connection of such responsiveness to situated practices of material bodies-in-relation, but often stop short of developing an account of what such practices might be. Given the situated nature of a dispositional ethics, our best and most overlooked resource for locating its conditions resides where bodies actually meet – where the praxis of responsibility as responsiveness is enacted, and can be observed. Based on field work with experts in precisely this domain – dancers and movement therapists for whom listening is primarily somatic and whose practices are designed to cultivate receptivity even as they challenge deeply held and often latent beliefs and values – I explore their potential contribution to our understandings of the role the body might play in our relative openness or refusal to listen. In doing so, I provide an account of three distinct and interrelated dimensions of a dispositional ethics in practice, and some of the concrete strategies available to cultivate the conditions for responsiveness in political life.


Emily Beausoleil (Presenter), Massey University, University of New Zealand
Emily Beausoleil is a Lecturer of Political Theory at Massey University, New Zealand, where she explores the conditions, challenges, and creative possibilities for democratic engagement in diverse societies. Connecting affect, critical democratic, postcolonial, neuroscience, and performance scholarship, Beausoleil’s work responds to compelling calls to find new models for coalition, community and post-home politics by asking how we realize these ideals in concrete terms. Her work has been published in Contemporary Political Theory, Constellations, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, and Ethics & Global Politics, as well as various books.