Musical Practice, Ethnography, and the Dynamics of Receptive Democratic Engagement

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 this paper, also part of the larger project Romand Coles discusses in his abstract, I propose to examine elements of political musicality that would be necessary for re-learning and advancing radical democratic arts. To do so, we journey with unlikely sources in an effort to recover - and urge new theoretical and ethnographic explorations of - the groove of radical democracy. Romand Coles’ presentation addresses contributions to our understanding of the political powers of receptive relationality from free jazz and the civil rights movement. As a political anthropologist, I extend these themes theoretically, ethnographically, and politically. We turn for fresh political concepts to a creative reading of The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten (five-time Grammy Award and three time “Bass Player of the Year”). Wooten’s work gives an imaginative and insightful account of musical receptivity as a dynamical interplay of what we distinguish as receptive expressivity and expressive receptivity. Moreover, Wooten offers conceptual tools and a set of musical practices (concerning “receptive volume”, “dynamics”, “tempo”, “listening to listening”, and “communicative interaction”) that have deeply informed our own engagements in action-research initiatives in two very different contexts--Northern Arizona and Western Kenya. Ethnographic reflections on these experiences through the lens of Wooten’s theorization of music open exciting horizons for democratic theories and practices of receptivity. We employ ethnography as a form of receptive attentiveness to receptive political engagements and performances themselves, in an effort to generate action research dynamics that repeatedly refine and reform efforts to engender receptive publics.


Lia Haro (Presenter), Australian Catholic University
Lia Haro is a Research Fellow, Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University. As a cultural anthropologist and social theorist, she focuses on utopian social imagination and practices of constructing possible futures in present communities and contexts of social transformation. Haro’s first book manuscript combines global-scale cultural analysis with three years of engaged ethnographic fieldwork and participatory action research in Western Kenya, where she explores how contemporary international development discourses and practices organized by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals encounter grassroots research, resistance, and alternatives. She is completing a book on the aesthetics, politics, and receptivity with Romand Coles.