Eavesdropping with permission: the politics of listening for safer speaking spaces

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Journal Article
Borderlands E-Journal, 2009, 8 (1), pp. 1 - 21
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In this paper I reflect on my role in a series of small workshops focused on the politics of gendered protectionism faced by Indigenous and Muslim women in Australia. My involvement began with a challenge overheard at two events held on the first anniversary of the Cronulla riots, in early December 2006. In very different ways, two conferences held in Sydney at that time ended with some participants interested in creating safe spaces for potentially difficult conversations between Indigenous people and Muslims in Australian. Here I reflect on my experiences as a co-convenor of the resulting 'Gender, Violence, Protection' workshop series in an attempt to analyse some of the possibilities for a white, middle-class woman like myself, influenced by feminisms, antiracism and critical race and whiteness studies, to contribute to developing safer spaces for speaking and listening across differences in the context of Indigenous sovereignty, and despite the persistence of colonial feminism and the privileges of whiteness. Drawing on recent work on the politics of speaking and listening, I suggest that a particular form of 'political listening' (Bickford 1996) or 'eavesdropping' (Raftcliffe 2005) may enable people, like myself, who are discursively privileged, to contribute to antiracism without dominating the space of conversation. This eavesdropping entails a shift to the margins and an ongoing negotiation of discomfort and permission. In my analysis I highlight the unease and uncertainty provoked by eavesdropping as a register of shifting hierarchies of safety and risk, and also the impossibility of simply 'transcending' networks of privilege and power.
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