Earwitnessing Detention: Carceral Secrecy, Affecting Voices, and Political Listening in The Messenger Podcast

Maria Rae, Emma Russell, Amy Nethery


Australia’s offshore immigration detention centers are characterized by a culture of secrecy that keeps human rights abuses hidden. Yet, detainees are employing new technologies and media to narrate their experiences of incarceration. This article examines the potentials and limitations of bearing witness and exercising acoustic agency through podcasting. It provides a case study of The Messenger podcast in which a refugee detained on Manus Island exchanges voice messages with an Australian journalist. It finds that podcasting can breach the secrecy that sustains a punitive detention regime and evoke empathy in listeners through the affective nature of voice. However, podcasting is limited by the sense of distance produced by prerecorded and edited sound and by the risk of creating echo chambers through the selective nature of podcast consumption. Finally, we adapt, develop, and argue for the concept of earwitnessing as a practice of responsible and political listening to injustice.


podcasting, earwitnessing, immigration detention, carceral soundscapes, political listening, Manus prison

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