During the course of my studies of political science here at Eastman, a hand full of concepts have immediately become readily applicable to the world around me. The most recent was during our study of Ranciere, and in particular his discussion of speech versus voice and its application to a true political argument.
We have already gone over what he means by speech versus voice multiple times, so I will not discuss that again. However, this binary’s relation to political argument, and indeed political argument itself, is extremely interesting.
From what I have derived, for an argument to actually be political in nature, there must be an inherent inequality amongst those arguing. This is due to Ranciere’s definition of “politics” as the disruption of the current system of domination. The “current system of domination” is what we colloquially consider “government” or “politics” (he labels both these commonly understood terms as “the police” [The dude must have been hard to have a normal conversation with]). Thusly, when we assemble in a town meeting and “argue” as to whether we should pave road X or road Y, and everyone has a chance to stand up and say his or her piece and be equal, we are not actually having a political argument, we are simply conforming to the current system of domination.
Essentially, to be a “political argument”, one person has to break the norms of conduct, and demand that his or her argument be heard. That is politics. This concept was fairly abstract to me, until I put it in “me terms”.
Eastman has a serious issue with its practice facilities. There are just way too few, and they are of extremely poor quality. Last year I decided that I was fed up, and wanted to do something about it. I fired off an email to the dean of Eastman, spelling out the problem, and then went on, more or less, to demand that he fix the issue.
About a week later, he got back to me essentially saying that we will look into it, we understand, the problem will eventually be solved, blah blah blah. Important to this discussion is that he told me, “there are appropriate paths of communication between students and administration (aka the student association), and I should take advantage of them”. I quickly replied that I would be at the next meeting to further discuss my point.
What I was not aware of at the time was that the dean had apparently sent my email to essentially all other school administrators, and it was causing quite a hubbub.
My next step, like the good grass-roots liberal my parents raised me to be, I wrote up a petition, and took it around for a few hours before the student association meeting, gathering about 40 signatures.
At the meeting, when it was time for “comments”, I got up and spelled out the problem and presented my petition. That night, an influential dean “happened to be there”, and after my presentation stood up and said that under no circumstances would the administration ever consider such a petition, nor do they listen to direct suggestions from students. “The student association is the voice of the student body, and so any petition would have to be drawn up by the association, and any suggestion would have to come through the association for the administration to hear it”.
At the time I was just upset, and eventually just found a practice solution for myself as opposed to my initial goal of a solution for everyone. Now, based on my work in this class, I understand exactly what happened.
By sending the email directly to the dean, I inadvertently and completely broke the code of the current system of domination. As a lowly student, I had no right to not only bring up an issue directly to the dean, but to demand action on his part. I took equality, or to put it in Ranciere’s terms, I demanded to be counted.
The dean then, via the administrator at the student association meeting, denied me actual speech, and reasserted the current system of inequality. By declaring the administration would not listen to me or a petition I would present, they reverted my speech-act back to merely voice.
If I had known what I know now, I would have never gone to the meeting. I would have simply continued to email the dean, and encouraged other students to do the same. That would have been pro politics