publication - Article

Strange Speech: Structures of Listening in Nuit Debout, Occupy, and 15M

Strange Speech: Structures of Listening in Nuit Debout, Occupy, and 15M

Jessica Feldman

Practices and techniques of listening were at the core of recent social movements that explicitly espoused horizontal direct democracy: 15M, Occupy Wall Street, and Nuit Debout. These movements sought to imagine nonhierarchical structures through which large groups of strangers could speak and listen to each other, considering seriously the coconstruction of communicative form and political values. Drawing on participant observation; 23 long-form interviews with social movement actors in Paris, Madrid, and New York City; and texts such as video documentation and “best practices” literature, this article performs a comparative analysis of internal assembly communications—particularly bodily mediated methods of transmitting and perceiving spoken language—and their relationships to deliberation and decision making. All of these movements struggled to reconcile the mandate to listen with the material and infrastructural challenges of autonomous public space. Nuit Debout’s strong commitment to accommodating those who could not comfortably participate in an occupation (day laborers, sans-papiers, disabled, etc.) caused its internal communication practices to differ in its attempts to conserve time and to prioritize translation.