What to Do with Sound-Bites: On Politics and Propaganda in the 21st Century

What to Do with Sound-Bites: On Politics and Propaganda in the 21st Century - Danielle Allen

Danielle Allen
Institute for Advanced Study
February 27, 2008

Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation Professor, School of Social Science. The political season is upon us and so, if they were not before, our newspapers, radios, computer screens, and televisions are now overfull with sound-bites; and countless people are complaining about the degradation of political conversation. But is a sound-bite really such a bad thing?

In the Western context, Homer was the first purveyor of them and Aristotle offered the first theory of them, but he called them maxims. This lecture explores why sound-bites are a necessary and valuable part of political conversation, consider the ways in which they are also dangerous, and analyzes the particular challenges to political discourse presented by the new media of the 21st century. At the end of the day, it is listeners, not speakers, who have the most work to do to deal responsibly with sound-bites.