Dr Poppy de Souza
University of Melbourne
From the ‘stop the boats’ rhetoric of Operation Sovereign Borders to #KidsoffNauru and #BringThemHere to the 2018 Migration Amendment Bill (or ‘Medivac’ bill)—legal, discursive and spatiotemporal logics of crisis are used to both defend Australia’s offshore detention regimes in the name of state securitization, and appeal to humanist calls for empathy and compassion. Yet this logic of crisis obscures the ‘slow violence’ (Nixon, 2011) of the settler-colonial carceral state, and maintains an uneven economy of attention. Urgency and emergency construct some refugees/asylum seekers as objects of care and sympathy; others endure in a state of unending suspension—reminders of the always-potential ‘threat’ to Australia’s borders. This paper listens beyond crisis in response to the artwork and archive how are you today (2018), over fourteen hours of audio recordings made by six men currently detained on Manus Island, PNG. Focusing on attention, duration, and endurance, I argue how are you today demands a sustained and situated politics of listening—one oriented not towards empathy or compassion, but which, as Bickford (1996) insists, accounts for the multiple ways we are positioned in and by structures of power. In this way, the particular ‘zone of temporality’ (Berlant, 2007, 759) inhabited by the men on Manus, their ‘getting by and living on’ is taken into account. Listening beyond crisis offers a way to register how the enduring-ness of life on Manus—the solitude and suffering, the sociality and solidarity—testifies to the very limits of what settler-colonial carceral logic and law can hear.
Poppy de Souza is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research at Griffith University, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the University of Melbourne on the Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous project “From Members to Leaders? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in Political Parties”. An interdisciplinary researcher, her scholarship focuses on voice poverty and political listening in the context of changing media technologies, everyday cultural production, settler-colonial relations, representational politics, and political transformation. More recently, her work has explored sound, race and the cultural politics of listening; acoustic violence and the ‘white ear’; critical temporalities of slow listening; and the conditions of listening and being heard, after Uluru. In 2018 she co-convened (with Tanja Dreher) the Politics of Listening conference at UNSW in Sydney, which brought together scholars, artist-researchers and cultural practitioners from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa and beyond.