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Silence permeates intimate spaces and intimate relationships. Such intimate silences shape social action, which can establish and maintain fundamental inequalities. The unsaid can be difficult to identify, especially in such contexts. However, by showing how we “tiptoe” around particular topics, a convincing case for the unsaid can be made. Using two case studies, we show how triangulation can be used to make the unsaid noticeable. The first case study is situated in post-apartheid South African paid domestic labor, where dyadic research was used to reveal silences around the topics of black sexuality, male visitors, and employer monitoring. These silences work to maintain privileged white control over intimate black activities. The second case study occurs in the undocumented student movement in the United States, where a comparison between public utterances and individual interviews revealed an absence of talk around intimate partner violence within the public discourses of undocumented students. This absence works to keep inequalities around ongoing domestic violence among undocumented immigrants invisible and unaddressed. In both cases, it was only through multimethod research that the absences and dissonances across the data sets were noticed, allowing for new understandings of the issues and their fundamental inequalities.
The concluding chapter seeks to develop a model of how human talk and action can be simultaneously expressive and repressive, and for understanding how a collective and ideological unsaid may be produced by human action. We draw together the contributions to this book, showing how these identify “signs of silence” and develop an analysis of the unsaid from qualitative studies of social interaction. We use ideas from ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, and discourse analysis to explain how the said and unsaid provide the ground for normative and accountable conduct, which, in turn, provides the foundation for qualitative studies of silence. We exploit the topographical metaphor of a “discursive terrain,” likening human action to paths that emerge to channel conduct along the contours of the said, and which simultaneously constitute the untrodden hinterlands of the unsaid. This “stigmergic” model of discursive action allows us to imagine how to bridge divides that are evident in the chapters of the book and elsewhere: between the conditions and outcomes of action and between discursive and psychoanalytic conceptions of the unsaid.
We open the book by showing – briefly, by a consideration of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission – how our social worlds are structured around silences and absences; and how even the process of unsilencing can lay down new absences. We explain why qualitative research in the social and human sciences has often neglected studying silences as it focused on the presences in talk, discourse, and interaction. We then provide a quick roadmap of the silence literature that has begun to gain momentum as part of what we cal, “a turn to silence.” Finally, we outline the perspectives and objectives of this book, arguing that qualitative studies are well suited to explore the unsaid, which we conceptualized as a slippery and multilayered form of social action. The chapter provides an overview of the collection and introduces the two broad questions answered by each of its contributors, namely: (1) “What is unsaid?” – focusing attention on methods, practices, and perspectives for identifying absence, and (2) “What is the unsaid doing (here)?” – focusing attention on the ideological significance of absence.
Qualitative Studies of Silence brings together influential qualitative researchers from across the social sciences and humanities who have sought to understand the power of what remains unsaid, both psychologically and socially. Each chapter identifies one or more signs of silence and explains how these can form the basis of a rigorous qualitative investigation. The authors also demonstrate how silences operate in our private and collective lives by fulfilling psychological, relational, institutional, and ideological functions. The book contains multiple disciplinary perspectives and presents analyses of wide-ranging topics, such as medical consultations, whistleblowers, silence in court, omission-as-propaganda, trauma survivors, the silence of war museums, racism in the Americas, gendered silences, paid domestic labour, the undocumented student movement, and the Nazi past. This collection shows how such qualitative studies can reveal and contribute to understanding the unsaid as social action.
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