“Ethnologie française” journal - To Make Silence
Silence is a motif that stands out both, and paradoxically, for its omnipresence and its absence. Women and children "silent victims" of violence, citizens rebelling for what they are not "told" or for how their problems are "made invisible", "silenced" protest movements, organizations seeking to bring these demands into the public space so that they can be "heard"… Is it the omnipresence of the word in all its declinations, in today's conversations in the political and mediatic spheres, or is it the absence of an anthropological reflection conducted by means of empirical cases and ethnographic descriptions meticulously carried out that should prompt us to engage in a collective reflection on silence as a practice, on how to make silence?
Silence has sometimes been described as something that is not here (a word that is absent, a noise that dissolves, a void, a "hole" or a "blank" in communication), and sometimes as something that is already here, the basis of any speech act relying on it. This issue proposes to question silence while being made, by exploring its pragmatic dimension and the practical problems that this exploration implies in terms of methodology and even of research ethics. Hence the need to reinvest, in a reflexive and committed way, this notion beyond the real difficulties of grasping what it is, to explore the ineffable, the elusive, the unspeakable and the indescribable, which are precisely its modes of existence. What can be said about the experience of silence in itself, as a specific modality of action and interaction, with its specific qualities, constraints and possibilities?
Studying the multiple ways of making silence leads one to question what it does to social life, or how it drives the actors involved in it to do something (Puccio-Den, 2017): how to make or to make someone do something in silence by means of which driving forces, mediations, supports and objects? Silence as a practice has a twofold aspect: to silence something, i.e. censorship in all its forms, which has recently given rise to collective research works in anthropology (Terrain 72/2019), and to make silence as a know-how, in other words, these acts of silence that Keith Basso proposed to describe half a century ago. In his pioneering article, entitled "To Give Up on Words. Silence on Western Apache Culture" (1970), the American anthropologist identified and analyzed several "situations" in which the Apache voluntarily refrain from speaking, and called for the same type of inquiry and questioning to be extended to other populations. Sadly, this call was not heeded….