IPSA 2018: “The Argonic Politics of Voice: Idle Speech, Democracy, and the Attitude/Behaviour Gap”

Title: The Argonic Politics of Voice: Idle Speech, Democracy, and the Attitude/Behaviour Gap


Abstract: Democratic theory has not yet dealt one of the central methodological problems of the social sciences: the “attitude-behaviour gap” (sometimes referred to as the problem of “words-deeds inconsistency”). Empirical studies of dialogue show that what people profess to do, or feel obliged to do, has very little correlation to what they actually do. In this paper I explore how speech and reason (logos) that is not directly situated in action (ergon) tends to be idle or inert (argonic). Despite this sociological and philosophical issue, democratic theory continues to harbour two presuppositions concerning motivation and dialogue. The first is that it is what we say that is ultimately and appropriately responsible for transforming attitudes, whether dialogue takes the form of rational argument, rhetoric, or narrative. Deliberative democratic theory in particular operates under the assumption that improvements arising in the epistemic, ethical, and democratic functions of open dialogue between citizen and their representatives – including any positive shifts which serve to augment legitimacy – are motivated by the content of articulated considerations rather than by something unarticulated. The second presupposition is that attitudinal shifts are primarily responsible for motivating action in decision-making contexts and/or modifications of behaviour. These presuppositions are rarely if ever tested. deference to voice can cultivate conditions of political ineffectiveness and inaction. I conclude that quite apart from the ways in which dominant groups obstruct deliberation and block policy solutions, the structural privileging of speech itself, without the presence of enacted deeds, can leave urgent problems such as racism, environmental degradation, and poverty cycling in a perpetual state of unproductive discussion.