Is it time to talk?

On Friday 8th March 2013 at 19:00 the Time to Talk, European Network of Centres of Debate presented Is it time to talk? at The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate in Sofia. This debate took place in English.

The Time to Talk conference debate focussed on our own existence. We discussed how the increasing ease of communication combined with the spread of information through the internet and social media outlets has contributed towards a growing fragmentation of the public space for debate in Europe. The participants spoke about the emergence of parallel public spaces, criticising the narrowing of opinions into very specific fields of interest. Questions were asked as to our continuing ability to be convinced by other strains of thought in a time in which the emerging environments predominantly consist of self imposed confraternal confines, whose spaces significantly minimise the exposure to differing opinions. Is it time to start confronting these resorts of narrowmindedness, to overcome their emergent barriers and in doing so to reinvigorate public debate through a new inclusivity? Should we make more of an effort to engage all perspectives, irregardless of our own opinions as to their acceptibility, reaffirming common grounds for discussion, rather than retreating to our like-minded circles and caricaturing or ignoring the opinions, which we dislike?

Michał Sutowski said that it is time give the people a voice. He declared that the biggest concern nowadays is the existing distribution monopolies of big corporations: we are indeed free to say what we will, the only problem being that no-one will be able to hear us, our voices being drowned out by the static of the corporately controlled airwaves. Michał Sutowski believes that it is therefore necessary to develop web portals, possessing sufficient coverage to broadcast the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard. He also stated that debates should always be related to specific actions and that the methods of activists also need to become more effectual, in order to ensure that both debates and demonstrations are seen to be worth participating in.

Claire Fox, meanwhile, brought attention to several prominent threats to free debate. She believes, that the rise of identity politics – namely the way in which this excludes people not fitting into the identity in question from making otherwise valid criticisms – and the habit of “writing off” certain points of view are the biggest concerns in contemporary debating. She therefore argued strongly against creating artificial boundaries for debates, stating that a knock-on effect of doing so had been the creation of groups of so-called “right-minded” people, who follow the “correct” way of thinking and, unchallenged within their like-minded groups, merely become smug and overly complacent. Complacency being an approach unlikely to lead to a resolution of any of the many issues confronting us, Claire Fox called for us to be ready to debate every idea freely, engaging, rather than avoiding, difficult subjects and taboos.

Maria Ivancheva also saw problems with the methodology of current debating. She criticised intellectuals, who she felt were always attempting to speak in place of the population at large and to reinterpret their thoughts and actions. She would prefer to see a stance, which sees a more balanced interaction between the differing levels of socio-political criticism with less domination of the narrative by intellectuals and more participation from activists. It was suggested that the higher education reforms of the 60’s had resulted in a proliferation of intellectual production that has now begun to have concerning consequences. Maria Ivancheva fears that intellectual debate has subseuqently become alienated from reality and in many cases is only capable of mediocre conclusions, this due to its restrictive enclosure in inapplicable ideological cul-de-sacs. Her proposed solution to this problem is for intellectuals to re-engage, to draw inspiration from real world events, such as the occupy movement, and to work with and help to facilitate, the ideas coming from those at the coal face.

Full length video footage of the debate:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Speakers and moderation:

Moderator:

Dessislava Gavrilova is the founder-director of The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate in Sofia. In 2005, Dessislava Gavrilova also became the director of the Centre for Arts and Culture at the Central European University in Budapest. Previously, she established and ran the Open Society Institute’s Budapest Performing Arts Network [1997-2000], stimulating independent, artistic work and innovation across Central, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. She has conducted research into British cultural policy at the University of Oxford, UK. She also holds an M.A. in Theatre Studies from the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts, Sofia and has studied script writing at the Moscow Film Institute.

Speakers:

Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas [IoI], which she established in order to create a public space where ideas could be contested without the constraints imposed by traditional debating environments. In addition to her work directing the IoI, she is also a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, is in demand as a commentator throughout a wide range of media outlets and is perceived to be one of the most influential left leaning activists in London. She also sits in the European Cultural Parliament and on the Advisory Board of the Economic Policy Centre. Claire Fox began her working life as a social worker and a lecturer in English Literature.

Michał Sutowski is the co-ordinator of Krytyka Polityczna’s Institute for Advanced Studies. He is a graduate of MISH UW, a political scientist and a journalist. He focuses on the ideology of the Polish democratic opposition, on Russian and German politics and on the political thoughts of Carl Schmitt, Chantal Mouffe and Boris Kagarlicky. Known for this translations from English and German [The open society and the welfare state, Castells and Himanen; Climate Wars, Harald Welzer, etc]. He also writes for Gazeta Wyborcza, Rzeczpospolita and Virtual Poland. All while being a member of the KP Publishing House and carrying out his role as managing editor of Political Critique.

Maria Ivancheva is a doctoral student of sociology and social anthropology at the Central European University, Budapest. Her research focuses on the past and present of socialism as reflected in the history of student movements and the contemporary higher education reforms in Venezuala. Maria Ivancheva is also a member of the Sofia based collective situated in the Xaspel Social Centre and the similarly Sofian Transeuropa Network.