Without a Voice of One's Own: Aphonia as an Obstacle to Political Freedom

Acta Philosophica Fennica 97:105–128 (2021)
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In this article I use Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology as a method for presenting a disclosing critique of aphonia as the loss of a political voice of one’s own. I claim that aphonia is a phenomenon that is qualitatively different from a lack of opportunities for democratic participation and a lack of the communicative capabilities required for effective political participation. I give examples from sociological literature on social exclusion and political apathy, and then diagnose them using Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of operative intentionality and the lived body. A picture emerges of aphonia as the diminishing of the expressive modality of the lived body. This can lead to the inability to perceive oneself as a capable public speaker and the public realm as a welcoming field of possibilities for political engagement. I propose that democratic theory should consider the way that the negative social experiences of social marginalization can diminish, or even completely take away, the capability to authentically give a voice to one’s experiences in public on one’s own terms. I conclude with a call for grass-roots alternatives towards engendering political participation among marginalized groups through a “therapeutic” approach to political inclusion.

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Joonas S. Martikainen
University of Copenhagen


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