Licence to Talk is an attempt to describe the ‘actually-existing’ South African public sphere in all its messy complexity. Situating this work in the Global South, I take issue with the normative, Habermasian-based critiques of postcolonial public spheres (which finds them to be deficient copies of the ideal) and I argue (with the Comaroffs, 2012 and Connell, 2007) that they have much to say and teach about the state of the world today with its ‘poly-crisis’ challenges. Focusing on talk and listening, affect and anger, agency and citizenship, belonging and voice, expression and persuasion, I ask how modern, highly unequal societies function on an imaginary level to navigate their significant challenges of bonding millions into social-political and economic bodies which constitute countries and nations, but also, increasingly, a citizenry of the world. I ask what role the marginalised of the Earth are now playing in shifting the terrain of who gets to speak and who gets to listen; who gets to do and who gets to watch.
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