Network for Silence Studies

Series of Presentations

The network organises a series of lectures that take place over a video link. Participation requires that you are a member of the network. If you are interested in joining, please contact Ejvind Hansen. You can find contact information by clicking “Contact” in the top right corner of this page.

Upcoming presentations:

22 May 2024Theo JungVarieties of Absence. Silence and Negativity StudiesSilence is often conceptualized as a specific form of absence, omission, or passivity. At times, it is equated with disengagement, emptiness, or even nothingness. Building on such observations, the field of silence studies can be understood to be part of (or perhaps a specific approach to) the wider academic engagement with absence and negativity. In this presentation, I will explore some of the themes and approaches that seem to be linked to silence studies, inviting a more general discussion on the relation between different areas of ‘negativity’-research and the place of silence studies in this field of scholarship.
19 June 2024José Luis Sánchez RamírezPolitical silences. Aesthetic-cultural reconfigurations of the soundscape and landscape in social protestTo be announced

Previous presentations:

17 April 2024Lois PresserUnsaid. Analyzing Harmful Silences
I am a sociological criminologist broadly interested in the discursive foundations of harmful actions and arrangements. A study of those foundations reveals soon enough that both what is said and what is not said, in important social texts, figures into harmful and unjust social arrangements, including such disparate phenomena as sexual violence, political corruption, and racism. Such texts include policy statements, laws, political speech, and popular media of many kinds; their absences doinvite, and conceal harm. My recent book, Unsaid: Analyzing Harmful Silences (University of California Press, 2023), presents a methodological approach for identifying two types of harmful unsaid: (1) tacit communication that legitimizes the abuse of power and infliction of harm, and (2) the exclusion of particular ‘subjects’, such as persons and their points of view. The book develops a cohesive and rigorous strategy for determining both kinds of unsaid things, with the goal of contributing to social research and activism.
20 March 2024Lukas MozdeikaLurking and Self-censorship on Social Media Sites as Silent Protest against Demands of Interactivity
Against the backdrop of the populist turn and dark forms of participation (Quandt, 2018), the early excitement about the participatory potentials of new digital media feels passé now. Most criticisms of social media, however, still rely on the presumption of individual citizens actively deliberating in now digitally re-conceived public sphere. And yet, the television-like experience brought by the web 2.0 and increasingly reliant on AI for user personalization and automation, renders the figure of an active participant an exception rather than the rule – lurking is apparently a dominant state of being online. Media and communication scholars have seized the occasion to rethink the normative assumptions of deliberative and participatory democratic theories given the apparent discrepancy between a minority of users actively expressing their opinions online and majority conceptualized in terms of inhibition, self-restraint, or self-censorship. This dynamic calls into question interactivity as the governing principle of the internet, which so-often remains neglected in media and communication literature. In my turn, I review psychoanalytically and anthropologically informed discussions on the theory of interpassivity (Pfaller, 1995; Žižek, 1998) spanning three decades now and present curious cultural counterexamples to what Gijs van Oenen calls interactive fatigue (2010). My wager is that the phenomena of moral outrage or shitstorms, virtue signalling and hate speech which mars civil culture at present can be explained by recourse to the common expectation-turned-burden to always speak one’s mind and actively reaffirm one’s political views. This expectation leaves no retreat for deeper reflection, and as I learned from qualitative interviews with young Norwegian adults, fuels moral aversion to relying on media affordances for political expression, which are blamed for amplifying disagreement and trivializing authentic dialogue. This helps to make sense of tendencies of self-censorship and disengagement from online debates, at least in the Scandinavian context. The upshot of the analysis makes a plea for preservation of silence as the precondition of effective communication amidst communicative noise.
17 January 2024Elisabeth SchweigerSilent War – Counterinsurgency and the Global Economy of Silence
In this talk I want to explore the political role of silence in enabling violent relations of power, through the case study of drone warfare and similar forms of remote warfare. While there has been a lot of attention to war propaganda and the discursive framing and justification of state violence, I argue that contemporary forms of neoliberal counterinsurgency practices in the ‘periphery’ depend fundamentally on silences. I investigate the interlinking functions of silence, from redactions and secrecy, to practices of exclusion and backgrounding, unspoken assumptions and the invocation of silence as assent and acquiescence. I map out silences and the different functions they have played in Western parliamentary debates, media coverage, NGO reports, international law and UN debates on drone warfare. This is not unique to contemporary drone warfare and not altogether new. In fact, I argue that we can only properly understand these silences if we pay attention to the enduring power of coloniality which has shaped our regimes of not listening. I will trace how colonial counterinsurgency violence was similarly enabled through silences by investigating discourses on police bombing practices in the 1920s – 1930s. In the talk, I thus draws attention to the importance of what I call the global economy of silence in sustaining violent relations of power.
6 December 2023Ejvind HansenFreedom of Silence — How to Let Silence set you Free
It has been commonplace since the Enlightenment and the emergence of rationalism to believe that some form of freedom of expression is the path to an enlightened public sphere. The line of thought has always been that the more voices involved in debating the pressing issues of the day, the better – because scrutiny and the pressure of competing points of view mean that the strongest ideas are likely to prevail.
While accepting that this is the case, I wish to supplement this line of thought by adding its opposite into the mix. Just as dialogue and information are indispensable ingredients in a functioning democracy, I want to show that silence is also a fundamental prerequisite.
The presentation has two parts: first, an analytical one, in which I will seek to highlight some of the ways in which silence structures public exchanges in ways we may not notice. In a sense, this is about reflecting on silence as an unavoidable condition. The second part is a more critical one, where I use the insights from the first to demonstrate how a greater focus on the structures that enable silence can breathe new life into public communicative exchanges and stop them just treading water. This part of the book entails reflecting on how silence is not only a condition, but one that can be operationalised critically.
Public spheres must not be evaluated solely on the basis of what is said or the information and communication conveyed in them. They must also be evaluated in relation to the silence that facilitated these exchanges – i.e. how what is said was made possible by something else being silenced.
Highlighting silence as a democratic focal point creates an opportunity to navigate more consciously through existing structures of silence. This, in turn, invites a more reflective approach to silence, which allows us to incorporate the structures of silence into public communication in a more systematic manner.