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Critical Exchange: The Nature of Silence and Its Democratic Possibilities

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Publication details

DateAccepted/In press - 5 Jul 2019
DatePublished (current) - 1 Sep 2019
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)424-447
Original languageEnglish


In 2003, this journal published a groundbreaking article entitled ‘‘Silence: A Politics’’. The author, Kennan Ferguson, wrote against the traditional understand-ing of silence as ‘‘inimical to politics’’. It was time, he claimed, to consider the full-breadth of possibilities of political agency that lay in silence, for the politics of silence was irreducible to domination and the possibilities of resistance it engenders: i.e., to silencing (denial of agency) and silent resistance (reactive agency). Silence could also be positively constitutive of selves, individual and collective.The challenge to revisit the agential potentials of silence was launched, but it would take some years before poli tical theorists took heed of it. This is starting to happen now. However, to address the possibilities of agency in silence, political theorists are feeling the need to return to basics: the nature of silence, and the relationship between silence and speech. These are also the questions driving this critical exchange: In what ways is silence like speech, and in what ways is it different? What can the comparison between silence and speech tell us about the nature of silence, the best ways to identify and study it, and the potentials and dangers it opens for democratic politics?

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