Resistance and Insubordinate Silences  


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Silence-as-absence-as-political, silence as conveying political messages and untimely silences, working alone or in concert, inform three kinds of insubordinate silence available for political contestation: silence for voice, silence as protest and silence as refusal. Silence for voice is the deployment of silence in order to draw attention to the ways in which an individual or group is or has been silenced. Silence as protest is not necessarily a call for the direct and immediate establishment of voice. Instead, it is a silence that calls attention to a grievous example of speech or perceived injustice. Finally, silence as refusal is a silence meant to turn away from a given discursive structure altogether. This form of insubordinate silence recognizes the ways in which discourses can act as prisons; and, that there may be times when it is beneficial to refuse being hailed into a given discourse altogether.

Silence for voice

Silence for voice is about using insubordinate silence in order to help solve the predicaments associated with being silenced. For the most part, those who advocate voice have focused exclusively upon voice as the vehicle for liberation. And, as a correlate, they have directly challenged the prevalence of silence itself. Insubordinate silence for voice, instead, seeks to use silence as a form of empowerment. Instead of exclusively meeting voices that silence with vocal resistance, a careful and tactical deployment of silence might help draw attention to the reality of being silenced and work as a form of discourse that conveys the position that the silencing itself is unacceptable. At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive and counterproductive to envision silence as a way to alleviate the problems of silence – how can silence break silence? Yet, it is important to note that many times it is not a totalizing silence that is enforced by those in power, but a series of silences regarding specific areas of life, and this silence occurs alongside things that are said that do not directly challenge the status quo. So, while one certainly does not want to engage in a silence that only perpetuates one’s silence in a given area, one can tactically deploy silence in areas in which one is depended on for voice.

Silence as protest

Silence as protest is not necessarily a direct response to the phenomenon of being dominated via being silenced. Instead, it is about challenging the ways in which speech itself can be very damaging to individuals.Silence as protest can also be used to resist and call attention to unjust conditions and behaviors. Like silence for voice, silence as protest relies upon the ways in which silence itself can convey important messages.

Silence as refusal

Another way that silence can be used as a form of insubordination involves silence as an intentional absence or self-exclusion from a given terrain of political contestation and constitution. Silence as a refusal to speak and as a self-imposed absence on certain matters altogether can be a refusal to enter discourse, a refusal of the political as discursive contestation; or it can involve a refusal of a specific discursive construct in order to make ideational space for, or to conserve, another. Ferguson states, ‘The very existence of silence thereby becomes a form of resistance, of non-participation in these practices of community building, identity formation and norm setting. Silence, in other words, betokens a rejection of these practices of power’. Silence as refusal and resistance is related to the concept of interpellation. Donna Haraway states, ‘interpellation occurs when a subject, constituted in the very act, recognizes or misrecognizes itself in the address of a discourse. Althusser used the example of the policeman calling out, “Hey, you!” If I turned my head, I am a subject in that discourse of law and order: and so I am subject to a powerful formation’. It might be that the most fundamental way in which silence can be deployed politically is to, in an untimely manner, refuse interpellation. After the ‘Hey, you!’ there is the issue of ‘if’. ‘If’ the head is turned, one becomes subject to a given discursive construct. The moment one is called is an opportunity, an opportunity to engage whatever discursive construct will surround you the moment you answer, but also the opportunity to not answer, to refuse the given discursive construct – an opportunity for desubjugation. It can be an untimely absence that reconfigures the terrains of the political landscape..

 

 

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