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Dr. Molly Scudder publishes new book 

Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation

Dr. Mary (Molly) F. Scudder’s 2020 Oxford University Press book Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation, is now available in both print and e-book formats. With this book Dr. Scudder contributes to political theory, specifically deliberative democratic theory, arguing that without listening there can be no democracy. To identify the democratic force of listening, she develops a “listening act theory,” modeled after Austin’s “speech act theory.” In the book, Scudder explores the limits of toleration and the extent to which democracy requires citizens to listen even to those who oppose democracy. Scudder shows the value of listening independent of empathy and argues that efforts to promote empathy can even undermine the need to listen. In a recent interview, Dr. Scudder shared how she came to write this book and explained it’s relevance to the field and the current political climate. 

  • What prompted you to write this book? I wrote my dissertation at the University of Virginia on the role of art in politics. And when I set out to write that many years ago, I intended to argue that art, especially literature, was valuable for promoting empathy among citizens. But when I started reading the research on empathy and democracy, I started to be more suspicious of its value. I realized that the value of empathy might not be as straightforward as many assumed, that it could actually undermine certain democratic goals, including listening. This book picked up where my dissertation left off.
  • What are the main points that you think readers should take away from this book? The key takeaway of the book is that without listening, there can be no democracy. Citizens have a responsibility to listen to each other when forming their political opinions. Merely including someone in a conversation is not enough. It is in listening that we ensure a person is included in a meaningful way. The book acknowledges, however, that listening is hard. It’s particularly difficult to listen sincerely to people with whom we deeply disagree. Trying to overcome those differences and disagreements, however, is not the answer. Instead, we are better off acknowledging the difficulty in understanding others and the importance of careful and attentive engagement in light of that difficulty.
  • How might your book change this field of research? Over the last three decades, deliberative democratic theory has focused on the importance of speech, but has largely ignored the role of listening. This has begun to change recently. My book contributes to a growing literature on listening in democracy by developing a systemic “listening act theory” modeled after Austin’s “speech act theory.” This theory of listening acts shows how we act in listening itself, independent of the outcomes of that listening. Listening has democratic value even if it doesn’t lead to agreement or understanding.
  • How is this book relevant for today’s political landscape? The US political landscape today is increasingly polarized and divided. This book helps show the democratic costs of such divisions. But it also helps us see a way out of it, by offering strategies for enhancing democratic listening across differences. The book also considers the limits of toleration. Do democratic citizens owe listening even to democracy’s enemies, including racists and misogynists? For example, can listening to hate speech do damage to democracy? Do individuals who are targeted by such hate speech really have an obligation to listen to it? When is it appropriate to refuse to listen? I discuss these and other issues in the book.

One of Dr. Scudder’s next steps in this line of research includes developing a measure of listening that can be used in the empirical study of deliberative democracy. 

Deliberative procedures have often emphasized mutual understanding and personal reflection as evidence of positive outcomes and the quality of the deliberation.  Dr. Scudder provides an alternative perspective in achieving democracy in the context of a pluralistic society.  “Ultimately, listening is not easy and it will not solve all of our problems. But it is indispensable for democracy. Recognizing this allows us to vivify rather than minimize the hard work of deliberation and to better see how citizens experience these burdens unevenly” explains Dr. Molly Scudder.  For additional information about Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation, please visit Oxford University Press at the link here.  It is also available at Purdue’s library in e-book format.

About the Author

Dr. Scudder is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Purdue University.  She specializes in political theory with a research focus on democracy, deliberation, and inclusion.  She is an Associate of the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra in Australia.  Related works from Dr. Scudder include her 2020 article “The Ideal of Uptake in Democratic Deliberation” published in Political Studies and 2016 article “Beyond Empathy: Strategies and Ideals of Democratic Deliberation” published in Polity.