Brief Notes toward a Political Phenomenology of Gossip

28 May 2021

Brief Notes toward a Political Phenomenology of Gossip

Three Gossips, Honoré-Victorin Daumier; Image credit: Art Institute of Chicago

Taking its departure from a distinction between chatter and gossip, the following essay argues that gossip, far from a mere “idle” talk, has a vital function: through gossip—an utterance that reveals something to someone about someone else—the community is both revealed to itself and regulated from within. Thus the gossiping community is not only the foundation of the political community, but the original forms of democratic politics—such as the ekklesia (assembly) and techniques of oratory—involve attempts to take control of and manage the constitutive power of gossip. This, in turn, suggests a critique of the situation in which we find ourselves due to the rise of social media: social media satisfies the psychological need for gossip while neutralizing its regulative and community-constitutive function. It is this, rather than some “postmodern” relativism, that has led to the current crisis in public, consensus-forming truth.

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