About this project

There is a growing recognition of the importance of attending to silences as active presences in social life. Contributing to anthropological approaches that move beyond seeing silences as suspicious, our project aims to explore silences as presences that can take narrative forms and can imply agency rather than disempowerment. We study the relationship between silence and verbal articulation at the intersection of anthropologies of affect, embodiment, memory and politics. Some of the questions we ask include: How does silence relate to speech or other forms of articulation? What are the effects of silences on individual and social bodies? How can silences be sensed and experienced viscerally? Can silence be a form of mediation/re-mediation? Can we talk about silence as a form of hauntology? What are the affective forces of silence across time and place? How are memories articulated in ways other than through language? When and how may silences imply agency? What different ways of listening may we need in order to ‘hear’ silences? By starting to address these questions together, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the presences and effects of silence and reflect on the possibilities of attending to silences in our research.

We, Ana Dragojlovic (University of Melbourne) and Annemarie Samuels (Leiden University), started this cooperative project when we realized that we were both interested in similar questions about the place of silences in our ethnographic research projects. Rather than defining silence in advance, we would like to gather diverse ethnographic experiences with, and anthropological thoughts on, studying silence. Therefore, we warmly invite you to share an ethnographic story or anecdote, or a more reflective piece, on silence on our blog.


A few selected readings that inspire us in the Anthropology of Silence:

Allison, Jill. (2011). ‘Conceiving Silence: Infertility as Discursive Contradiction in Ireland’, Medical Anthropological Quarterly 25(1): 1-21.

Basso, Keith H. (1970). ‘“To Give Up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture’, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26(3): 213–230.

Das, Veena. (2007). Life and words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Derrida, Jacques. (1993). Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. New York: Routledge.

Gammeltoft, Tine (2016) ‘Silence as a Response to Everyday Violence: Understanding Domination and Distress through the Lens of Fantasy’, Ethos 44(4): 427-447.

Good, Byron. (2012). ‘Theorizing the ‘Subject’ of Medical and Psychiatric Anthropology’, JRAI (N.S.) 18: 515-535.

Gordon, Avery. (2008). Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (2nd edition). Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Jackson, Michael. (2004). ‘The prose of Suffering and the Practice of Silence’, Spiritus 4: 44–59.

Kidron, Carol. (2009). ‘Towards an Ethnography of Silence: The Lived Presence of the Past in the Everyday Lives of Holocaust Trauma Survivors and their Descendants in Israel’, Current Anthropology 50(1): 5-27.

Navaro-Yashin, Yael. (2012). The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ross, Fiona C. (2001). ‘Speech and Silence: Women’s Testimony in the first Five Weeks of the Public Hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, in: Remaking a world: Violence, social suffering and recovery. Edited by Veena Das et al. pp. 250-79. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sheriff, Robin. (2000). ‘Exposing Silence as Cultural Censorship: A Brazilian Case’, American Anthropologist 102(1): 114-132.

Warin, Megan and Simone Dennis. (2009). ‘Telling Silences: Unspeakable Trauma and the Unremarkable Practices of Everyday Life’, The Sociological Review 56 (S2): 100-16.

Warren, Kay B. (1993). ‘Interpreting La Violencia in Guatemala: Shapes of Mayan Silence and Resistance’, in The Violence Within: Cultural and Political Opposition in Divided Nations. Edited by Kay Warren, pp. 25-56. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press.

Weller, Robert (2017) Salvaging Silence: Exile, Death, and the Anthropology of the Unknowable. Anthropology of this Century 19 [Online publication].

Photograph on the homepage: Nicole Segers


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 706562