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“Speaking of the Working class” in Bridget Anderson, Vanessa Hughes (eds) Citizenship and its Others. London: Palgrave (November 2015), pp.177-183.
The chapter is a response to Ben Rogaly’s chapter in the book. Here are my opening paragraphs:
Citizenship is inextricably bound up with voice, with the act of speech and the act of listening. At the edges of accounts of the Athenian polis and of the Roman republic, we can faintly hear the clamour of the demos, those with no voice and have not counted, insisting on being heard. In the Roman republic, the proletariat were those who were heard last, if at all, in the assembly; it was property that gave weight to voice, that made a voice count, and the proletarians were counted in the census only by their number of offspring (proli) instead of their property.
For Aristotle, while all animals have voice, only humans have speech. Discussing a tale told by Livy of the Roman plebs on Aventine Hill, as retold by Pierre-Simon Ballanche in 1829, Jacques Rancière talks of the plebs claiming the human facility of speech. ‘They [the plebs] do not speak because they are beings without a name, deprived of logos – meaning, symbolic enrolment in the city. Plebs live a purely individual life that passes on nothing to posterity except for life itself, reduced to its reproductive function. Whoever is nameless cannot speak.’ Just as Plato called the demos a ‘large and powerful animal’, the Roman patricians heard the sounds of the plebs as – in Ballanche’s words – ‘only transitory speech, a speech that is a fugitive sound, a sort of lowing, a sign of want’: a voice that did not count, that held no meaning to them.
In today’s modes of citizenship, not all voices are heard as speech, as carrying the weight of meaning in the community of value.