Minutes from April meeting

Discussion from previous meeting:

  • The discussion primarily focused on the Zerilli article (“We Feel Our Freedom”: Imagination and Judgment in the Thought of Hannah Arendt). Luci introduced it, with the context that we had been reading Andrejevic’s Automated Media in the previous meeting and got to a discussion of if social media can be dialogical. This led us to Zerilli’s reading of Arendt and Arendt’s conception of cognitive judgement in politics, as opposed to determinate judgement. Andrejevic had quoted Zerilli’s article as stating ‘a freedom-centered practice of judgment, then, cannot be modelled on the rule-following that characterizes what Kant called a determinate judgment’. This quote acted as our starting point.
  • Within the Zerilli article, political claims were positioned as a reflective judgement rather than determinate judgement in Ardent, which Habermas had critiqued as aestheticizing politics and taking it away from logic. Zerilli claims Habermas misses Arendt’s point that we cannot make political decisions based on who  has the best formal argument as an argument can be logical but you can still disagree with its conclusions. Thus, there must be more to political decision making.
  • Arendt focuses on plurality in politics, according to Zerilli; that the notion that we must embrace the different views of others through understanding their world beyond the surface level. This empathy is how we ‘feel our freedom’; we make judgements about the public personas of others (and vice versa) in an attempt to find ‘your group’. This raised the question in our discussion about the structure of social media and how it allows for people to group themselves. Does this structuring allow for a dialogue based on understanding and imagination of the world of others, or does it leave us only with ‘our groups’?
  • The question was raised about political discourse in an age so impacted by manipulation of affect and dismembering of conventions around truthfulness; how do we implement Arendt’s pluralist ideals around issues like 5G masts or global warming? Should we even desire plurality in these debates? One suggestion around this was that ‘severe’ elements of society (e.g. white nationalists/supremacists) are no ‘political’ in Arendt’s sense/are not in the political sphere because they themselves lack interest in others/an imagination for the world of others. This was felt to be almost circular though, effectively ignoring the problems raised in this point by dismissing them as ‘not political’. In contrast to the idealised version of the ‘political’ here, it was raised that we should ask how (social media) platforms help facilitate dialogues, both what is being done now and what is needed for the future. However, this does not answer how the issues raised above (5G masts spreading COVID-19, for example) can speak to political issues grounded in reality. 
  • The question was raised of, Arendt may be aestheticizing politics but is this oppositional to what Habermas was saying, were they saying similar things about the plurality? Both seemed concerned about how we receive others and how others receive us, with the issue between Arendt and Habermas coming from the ability to respond and interpret in the political sphere. It was felt both of these conceptions still privilege a form of criticality which is rooted in the rationalist model, even if Arendt is ‘softer’ about this. William Davies’ Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World was offered as a critique of this rationalist model, showing how the overreliance on the ‘expert state’ helped to facilitate the states we see now based on manipulation of feeling by the right. However, it was felt that there is a tangible difference between Habermas and Arendt due to Arendt’s use of imagination as a political tool. For Habermas’s rationalist model, concepts can only be explained within the world of the known. Arendt and her use of imagination offer a way to conceptualise the ‘new’ and beyond what we know (with the example of the French Revolution in the article).
  • The discussion then moved to the use of imagination and thinking beyond what we know in social media design. The Design Anthropological Futures chapter was felt to deal with this. The persuasive design concept in this chapter was seen as interesting because it offered means to create change beyond communication, using platform design to achieve goals. Critical design being aligned with art and agendas which are anti-deterministic was also seen to offer some hope. However, one critique was that arguments around future oriented design were often just that; a form of legitimation of current actions more than anything else. There was concern that by depending too much on future designs, we assume platforms hold complete sturcuting power. It is important to remember that social media can influence dialogue but it does not completely determine it. 
  • The discussion overall was felt to be useful but fell down the rabbit hole of critique without offering any normative ideas or seeking to find solutions; it was felt that the discussion was becoming about technical determinism versus social determinism, particularly regarding if the platform causes the decay of political dialogue or if a polarised society creates the decay of political dialogue. It was felt that this was territory which had been previously addressed and was somewhat incommensurable. It was felt that it would be more useful to step outside of the loop of this technical versus social determinism, which is what leads us to the reading for this week. 
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