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The Politics of Silence

Mónica Brito Vieira | British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

Image: Helena Almeida, ‘Ouve-me’, 1979 · Caixa Geral de Depósitos Collection· Photograph: Laura Castro Caldas / Paulo Cintra (detail)

Aristotle made speech the essence of politics and posterity has concurred.  Modern democratic thought, from deliberative democracy to participatory politics, focuses overwhelmingly on voice, speech, and discourse. Speech, however, cannot be intelligible unless permeated by silence. Pauses between words, their duration and location, are as meaningful and consequential as the words themselves. But silence is much more than the space between words—it is a political category in its own right. As we do things with words, so silence too allows us to act politically. Silence can acquiesce to power as well as deploy it. It can claim authority as well as constitute community. There is meaning in what is said but also in what was left unsaid, in the silences speech harbours, in the refusal to speak.

This project aims to restore silence as a meaningful political category. It does so by mobilising insights from philosophy and political theory, including the work of C. S. Peirce, to develop a new approach to silence. It uses this approach to explore a number of case studies, each showcasing a different aspect of the politics of silence, from ‘the silence of the law’, to the silent protests of the Falun Gong, the Silent Sentinels, and the Silent Parade, to communities constituted by and through silence, like the Carthusians and the Quakers. 

You can find out more information on Mónica Brito Vieira's research - The Politics of Silence

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