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Speech act theory and democratic communication : re-thinking the role of speech and the body in democratic theory and practice Willson, Mark Adrian

Abstract

This thesis investigates a leading bias of democratic thought, both popular and academic: that speech is the only and best modality of political action in democracy. Through the texts of J.L. Austin, Pierre Bourdieu and Hannah Arendt I investigate exclusionary consequences of this dimension of contemporary democratic life, highlighting how an emphasis on speech as the primary, and perhaps sole, legitimate form of democratic participation threatens to impede the contributions of groups that lack access to forms of speech that are taken seriously, and positions from which speech gets heard. To illuminate non-speech oriented dimensions of democratic politics that are typically treated as illegitimate, or not thought about at all, I link this work on speech theory and democratic theory to literature that explores the body itself as another vehicle for communication and site of political action. With reference to the works of Judith Butler, I investigate the body as a site of communicative power for social actors whose speech contributions tend to be unauthorized by dominant norms and undervalued due to social prejudices. With reference to these strands of thought, I emphasize the central role of bodily acts in a continuous widening of access to deliberative democratic processes, and I argue that such acts should be recognized as having a greater role in, and deserve greater attention in studies of, democratic communication and struggles for recognition.

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