Law Text Culture


This paper examines how public diplomatic practices of listening operate within unequal and often chaotic transnational spaces. In analysing transnational listening, the paper distinguishes between interpersonal and state based listening and argues that states – as polyvocal, multiscalar assemblages - listen differently to individuals. In particular, while interpersonal listening retains the possibility of openness, uncertainty and being moved unexpectedly by what is heard, state based listening is focused much more closely upon listening as a device of organisation and control.

To explore the operation of state based listening, the paper undertakes a case study of US public diplomatic promises to ‘listen’ to LGBTQI rights activists between 2011 and 2016. It explores why listening was such an important tool in the US’s diplomatic arsenal during this period and the importance of claims to ‘listen’ in countering accusations of cultural or economic imperialism. The paper then proposes a typology of how the US used listening to further its strategic goals. In exploring the parameters of this typology, the paper concludes that by taking seriously the challenge to ‘listen intently’ we can begin to re-think the spatial, temporal and legal framings that limit the possibility of being heard.


The research for this paper was funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship grant ECF-2015-612. I am grateful to James Parker, Mark James, Dominic Medway, members of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender and Diversity Research Centre and the participants in the MMU Writing Retreat 2018, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper.