Michael Lempert

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10079

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Lempert, Michael (University of Michigan) "Democratic Listening: From Deliberation to Cancellation at the Post-Liberal University"

Online and off, and across the political spectrum, people ask whether “canceling” individuals curtails free speech and is bad for liberalism or whether such selective disengagement upholds liberal-democratic values by stopping harmful speech and amplifying marginalized voices. While focused on expression–text and talk–these debates rest on unexamined ideas about reception. This two-year linguistic anthropological study spotlights “democratic listening” as a neglected but critical–and deeply contested–aspect of democratic communication in the United States. Focusing on a major public research university, it examines efforts to teach people how to listen, including anti-racist training and efforts to get students to stay in uncomfortable conversations. Using interviews, participant observation, and fine-grained video analysis of listening practices, this project examines what forms of listening are promoted as good for democratic life and when, how, and with what effects these different practices come into conflict. While mobilizing linguistic anthropology to speak to issues of public interest, the study contributes to scholarship on the anthropology of democratic communication and free speech as well as to interactionist literature on listening techniques. This ethnographic study will be integrated into a joint historical and ethnographic book project, “Democratic Listening in America, from Consciousness Raising to Cancellation.”