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Review – Discordant Democracy: Noise, Affect, Populism and the Presidential Campaign

Discordant Democracy: Noise, Affect, Populism, and the Presidential Campaign
By Justin Patch
Routledge, 2019

Reading Justin Patch’s latest ebook, Discordant Democracy: Noise, Affect, Populism, and the Presidential Campaign throughout the 2020 marketing campaign of Trump and Biden was an uncanny expertise. While Patch’s ebook facilities on the 2008 and 2016 campaigns in the United States, his evaluation of have an effect on and noise can simply be utilized to the most up-to-date election, even throughout a pandemic that stifled a lot of the ‘noise’ of campaigns. Centered round six key ideas – spin, magic, noise, have an effect on, deafness, and populism – Patch argues that sound (and significantly noise) must be at the middle of our understanding of democracy. He focuses ethnographically on the Texas Democratic Party, analyzing all through the ebook the on a regular basis actions of campaigning that get at the “savage heart of the American Dream.” Trained in the interdisciplinary discipline of ethnomusicology, Patch listens carefully to the have an effect on generated in traditional sounds of democracy: rallies, political speeches, crowd chants, and, in fact, music. Musical idea turns into a method into understanding the sounds of democracy, however music itself doesn’t occupy the central stage of his evaluation. Instead, Patch focuses on a broad query: What precisely are the sounds of campaigning, and how do they relate to the expertise and the feeling of participatory democracy? Discordant Democracy contributes to a spread of research that ask, in quite a lot of settings, what it means to hear or to really feel democracy? (See, for instance, Abé 2016; Kunreuther 2018; Manabe 2015; Novak 2015; Tausig 2019; Sonevytsky 2016) The finish result’s an eclectic ebook that mirrors its subject material, one which inscribes quite a lot of discordant modes of reflection in ways in which echo the numerous modes via which politicians deal with their viewers. It shall be a ebook of curiosity not solely to ethnomusicologists, but in addition, to political theorists, sound research students, have an effect on theorists, and political ethnographers.

There are a number of interlocking arguments that body Discordant Democracy. First, Patch is excited about the place of sound and emotion inside political philosophy and cultural idea. Second, in turning his consideration to the particular sounds of campaigns, Patch inverts the traditional distinction between meaningless noise and significant indicators. Noise, Patch argues, is the sign of campaigns. Finally, as soon as we acknowledge that noise is a vital sign of marketing campaign success, Patch goes on to argue that the “populist sensorium” that characterizes latest campaigns are rooted in impacts that result in new and generally surprising subjectivities. When tracing the affective high quality of campaigns via sound, Patch permits himself to “get spun” like different marketing campaign staff.

The idea of ‘spin’ is central in the ethnography. Chapter Two facilities on the ethnographic stance as a mimetic methodology, which on this case mimes the notion of spin. In using this mimetic gadget, Patch produces a textual content that “seeks a close contact with its object…It is never an exact replication or reproduction, it is a constant becoming” (p.30). Asking the reader to return together with him and “to spin”, Patch addresses his viewers as a flaneur, a browser, somebody who would possibly like one idea and not one other, and have the ability to skim throughout all of them. In the writing, Patch conveys snippets of marketing campaign life in the type of italicized fieldnote-like narratives.  Consider Patch’s description of the “spin room” following considered one of the debates between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:

We were assigned to an expert and accompanied them around the spin room with their identifying signage so reporters looking for a quote or an angle would spot them and ask them questions on the record…. In these encounters, we are the gears in the machine, being spun and spinning, taking the kinetic energy of affect, and converting it into political motion.” (p.21)

I discovered myself drawn into these passages, but needing extra integration with the heavy and, at occasions obtuse, theoretical sections. But maybe that disjuncture supplies a glimpse into what it feels prefer to be inside the spin machine.

Sound and Emotion in Political Campaigns

Discordant Democracy follows the traditional separation between sound and imaginative and prescient in a lot literature on the senses. In Chapter Three, ‘The Campaign as Modern Magic,’ Patch turns to the ear and sound as the website of enchantment, engagement, and faith in distinction to the rationalism and distance presumed of the eye and visuality. Sound helps perceive the social extension of participatory democracy, simply as soundwaves unfold out from their supply and with amplifying gadgets prolong a lot additional than the eye can see, crossing materials boundaries in ways in which mild waves can’t. Thus, to know the rise of figures like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, whose campaigns have been dominated by a contagious affective tone (at various sides of the political spectrum), Patch argues that we have to transfer away from older theories of democratic politics that emphasize studying the press or legal guidelines (imaginative and prescient) over oral, charismatic audio system (sound). Modern campaigns are like magic reveals, Patch suggests; phantasm, deception, fable and mysticism are at work in each.

At first look, Patch appears to breed what Jonathan Sterne has critiqued as the ‘audio visual litany’, with its roots in Christian metaphysics.In this dichotomy, sound seems nearer to presence, immersion, subjectivity, whereas imaginative and prescient implies distance, elimination from the world however presumably additionally leads us to cause. As Sterne argues, the binary of seeing vs. listening to, evident significantly in “Toronto School” media theorists (McLuhan, Ong, Havelock), smuggles in a Christian spiritualism and idea of listening that claims modernity’s celebration of cause, rationality, and even capitalism emerged via the sensory dominance of sight over listening to. Targeting Walter Ong’s work on Orality and Literacyin explicit, Sterne means that “Ong’s…history of the senses is clearly and urgently linked to the problem of how to hear the word of God in the modern age. The sonic dimension of experience is closest to divinity” (p.18). Patch equally means that the noise of democracy resembles a divine voice. People really feel a duty to reply a democratic name to motion identical to “the voices that spoke to Apostle Paul in light and Moses through the burning bush, tasking them with heroic action” (p.61). Quoting a Texas delegate, who turned to him at throughout democratic rally, Patch remembers “Remember…this here is your church” (p.61). Both the Church and democratic politics depend on audible voices that hail individuals into motion, and Patch suggests there may be little distinction between the two. While Patch’s evaluation repeats the audio-visual litany in some respects, Discordant Democracy however doesn’t current a teleological argument that leads from orality to literacy.

Noise as Signal

The most evocative ethnographic moments of Discordant Democracy happen in the center of the ebook (particularly Chapter Five, referred to as ‘Sonic Democracy’) which valorize noise as a core sign inside democratic campaigns. Here Patch compares a candidate to a ‘conductor’ who co-creates noise along with his viewers (p.83). In delivering speeches, candidates have to calibrate simply the correct quantity of their very own speech, whereas additionally leaving room for noise from the viewers that indicators their consent. Patch’s evaluation complicates the work of statistician and political analyst Nate Silver, who constructed his profession on clearly figuring out “data” that finally excludes distracting “noise” from related info crucial for correct future predictions. Discordant Democracy, against this,turns our consideration to the sounds that different political theorists are likely to ignore: clapping, screaming, chanting, and the strategic use of ‘you’ in political speeches. Noise that was generated by the Tea Party throughout the 2008 election, Patch suggests, took one other eight years to totally floor once more in Trump’s electoral victory. Patch’s evaluation thus begs the query: what’s a sign and what’s noise on this occasion?

A good looking ethnographic instance of ‘noise as signal’ happens in considered one of the italicized sections of Chapter Five. Here Patch describes an occasion when Barack Obama was talking as the democratic candidate (or the newly elected president – the context is unclear). An enthusiastic middle-aged Black man standing in entrance of Patch started to high school two middle-aged white girls on how to answer Obama’s speech. “If you want him to keep talkin’, you’ve got it let him know. Say “Say it!” (p.94), the man instructed. Throughout the speech, the man continued to prod the girls on. “Come on, let me hear it,” he inspired, or “You can do better than that,” till lastly the girls produced an enthusiastic and loud-enough utterance for the man to answer with satisfaction: “That’s it. Now that’s how it’s done.” (p.94). In this instance, the reader can really feel the method that participatory democracy means nothing via speeches or insurance policies alone. As this explicit political fan implies, the viewers is in reality the motor of a candidate’s speech.

Affect as Political Action

In the final thread of argument and focus of Chapter Six and Seven, Discordant Democracy illustrates that have an effect on is a type of political motion. Here, Patch takes on a spread of have an effect on theorists – from Spinoza to latest critics who draw on Spinoza (Antonio Damasio, Gilles

Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Lauren Berlant) – to deal with what he calls the “populist sensorium” during which the senses are central to campaigning and central to formation of the political self. Affective motion includes expressions of the physique that break down boundaries between people and hyperlinks the world of hearts/minds to the world of motion and response (p.105). The elusive nature of have an effect on, as a number of ethnographers be aware, makes it arduous to hint ethnographically on condition that such emotions aren’t all the time absolutely or empirically recognized, and they could or could not stick in persisting discourse (See Rubin 2012; Rutherford 2016; Stewart 2007).By specializing in affective expressions, like collective clapping (considered one of my favourite examples in the ebook, which he calls ‘body-voice’), Patch reveals ethnographically how the physique is made audible. Clapping and chanting rapidly dissolve boundaries between individuals and turn out to be themselves a type of contagious agent that reverberates via a crowd (p.95).

Within a populist body of campaigning – one which positions itself towards dominant political figures and events – have an effect on is core political technique. In the 2008 and 2016 campaigns, two very completely different candidates (Obama and Trump) used populist rhetoric to deal with teams exterior the political middle, to create the emotions of being heard. (Many would disagree that Obama was a “populist” candidate, however as Patch reveals, Obama makes use of the time period ‘populism’ to explain himself). Again, the sounds of democratic participation are essential to this circulation of have an effect on and the sense of being listened to. Both campaigns animated brief three phrases chants that grew to become synonymous with their campaigns; the distinction was that Obama’s chant got here from his speech (“Yes, We Can”) whereas the two chants that signified the affective tone of Trump’s 2016 marketing campaign (“Build a Wall” & “Lock Her Up”) emerged from the crowd, in response to Trump’s guarantees and allegations. For Patch (and many different political analysts), this marks a vital distinction between Obama’s message of uplifting empowerment and Trump’s message of domination, white supremacy, and exclusion. Both campaigns, nonetheless, relied primarily upon affective messages to successfully assist carry two unlikely candidates to workplace. To ensure, this isn’t uncommon. “Affect is not…so much a site of radical otherness to be policed or preserved,” notes William Mazzarella, an anthropologist who writes about have an effect on, “but rather a necessary moment of any institution with aspirations of public efficacy” (p.298). 

Discordant Democracy ends with a chapter that interrogates the present political second (“Our politics”) as one which he characterizes as “deafened and dumbstruck” – or the incapability to listen to each other. While in the earlier chapters, Patch appears to have fun the noisiness of campaigns, right here he takes a reverse place to counsel that “[d]eafened politics are a response to the tremendous proliferation of noise that surrounds the political experience…In confronting this noise, we are deafened… and in this state we mute our capacity for empathy, and for democracy itself” (148). We are in a disaster of listening that may solely be resolved, Patch claims, with true listening to what would possibly in any other case be tuned out as “noise.” “Noise and our ambivalent relationship to it (both joyful and fearful),” writes Patch, “tell us that we are uncomfortable with our own democracy – the actual authentic practice of representation, long denied to many – not that we are losing it” (p.96). The reader is left with a collection of questions, none of that are absolutely answered – nor, maybe, can they be on this nonetheless unsure second: Will listening to the noise of “others” lead in direction of new types of governance that start to interrupt open the deafened state we’re in? Discordant Democracy doesn’t present remaining solutions, however for a lot of, the ebook will resonate with the present political context during which noise continues to reverberate as a generally buried, generally amplified key inside the general chords of democratic politics.


Abe, Marié. 2016. “Sounding against Nuclear Power in Post-3.11 Japan: Resonances of Silence and Chindon-ya.” Journal of Ethnomusicology 60, no. 2: 233–62.

Kunreuther, Laura. 2017. Sounds of Democracy: Performance, Protest, and Political Subjectivity. Cultural Anthropology 33(1): 1 – 31.

Manabe, Noriko. 2015. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music after Fukushima. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mazzarella, William. 2009. Affect: What is it Good For? In Enchantments of Modernity: Empire, Nation, Globalization. Sarah Dube, p. 291– 301. New York: Routledge.

Novak, David. 2015 “Noise.” In Keywords in Sound, edited by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny, 125–38. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press.

Sonevytsky, Maria. 2016. “The Freak Cabaret on the Revolutionary Stage: On the Ambivalent Politics of Femininity, Rurality, and Nationalism in Ukrainian Popular Music.” Journal of Popular Music 28, no. 3: 291–314. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12174.

Tausig, Benjamin. 2019. Bangkok is Rising: Sound, Protest, and Constraint. Oxford University Press.

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