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Centre for Political Ethnography

Democracy in a Time of Misery: From Spectacular Tragedy to Deliberative Action

Published: 28 May 2019

Nicole Curato a Senior Research Fellow for the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, University of Canberra has visited the CPE to deliver a lecture on the topic Democracy in a Time of Misery: From Spectacular Tragedy to Deliberative Action. A summary of her work can be read below and a link to more detailed description is at the bottom of the page.

Misery rarely features in conversations about democracy. And yet, in the past decades, global audiences are increasingly confronted with spectacles of human pain. The world is more stressed, worried, and sad today than we have ever seen it, a Gallup poll finds. Does democracy stand a chance in a time of widespread suffering? 

Drawing on three years of field research among communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, this presentation offers ethnographic portraits of how collective suffering, trauma, and dispossession enlivens democratic action. It argues that emotional forms of communication create publics that assert voice and visibility at a time when attention is the scarcest resource, whilst also creating hierarchies of misery among suffering communities. It investigates the ethical and political value of democracy in the most trying of times and reimagines how the virtues of deliberative practice can be valued in the context of widespread suffering.

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