Four Logics of Democratic Spectatorship

Part of the IDEA Research seminar series

Speaker: Joseph Lacey (UCD)

At first and normally, democratic citizens are spectators.

We are at first spectators in that all political action emerges from someone who previously has been and will return to the status of a spectator. Meanwhile, we are normally spectators in that the vast majority of political engagement involves paying attention to what others are doing. This is the basic insight of spectatorship. While theories may differ in the significance they attribute to it, none can deny it. Nevertheless, the basic insight of spectatorship is under theorised. Its reality is more often assumed than investigated. In attempting to elaborate upon the nature of empowerment that is essential to the kratos of democracy, democratic theorists have overwhelmingly built their edifices around forms of political agency, such as those relating to participation, or deliberation, or contestation. Broadly speaking, the basic insight of spectatorship is taken to be a realist constraint providing the boundaries within which a normative theory of political agency can be developed, rather than a positive starting premise upon which democratic theories could be partly built.

This paper seeks to elaborate upon the basic insight of spectatorship in a way that clarifies its potential to positively inform democratic theory building. It does so by attempting to describe the political logics or forms of relation that are possible between apolitical advocate and the spectating citizenry. The starting point for working out these forms of relation is Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the core cognitive capacities constituting the life of the mind: the will, the intellect, thought and reflective judgment. 

All welcome

Seminar Room 2, IDEA Building (17 Blenheim Terrace) & MS Teams (please email Andrew Kirton for a link)