Rethinking the impact of Silence in Democratic Public Spheres

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Silence is often considered a sign of repression. This theoretical paper will supplement this understanding with the opposite point of view: It will be argued that silence is also a foundational precondition for exchanges in the democratic public spheres in which participants are able to challenge each other.
The paper departs from a deliberative understanding of democracy. A motif common to this tradition is the emphasis on rational public processes as the proper way of deciding how to handle political challenges. Reflections on the deliberative democratic public sphere often refer to the work of Habermas (Habermas 1992). His analysis outlines a number of important mechanisms for individuals to overcome their differences, which is crucial from a democratic point of view.
However, as several critics of Habermas have pointed out, the concept of the individual flourishing in the collective is also somewhat naive (e.g. Jungkunz 2013; Keating 2013; Brito et al 2019; Hansen 2021). It is argued that the discursive horizons that such exchanges are based upon are only possible based upon communicative silencing. In order to be part of a communicative community, the individual must accept the discursive horizon on which the communication is based – in order to reach what Habermas calls "Verständigung". The more you are immersed in the communication, the more you run the risk of being swallowed up by its horizons whereby individual characteristics are diluted.
While acknowledging the main intuitions of the deliberative approach, this paper will suggest that its underlying understanding of intersubjective relationships must be supplemented with the host/guest analysis that is articulated by Derrida (Derrida 1997). In this analysis Derrida argues that real intersubjective interactions presuppose that the agents silence themselves – in order to be able to listen to the alterity of the other. The deliberative quest for reaching towards mutual understanding must be supplemented with a quest to acknowledge the fundamental incomprehensability of the other (and their views).
In this way it turns out that deliberative public exchanges presuppose the ability of participants to silence themselves, as a means to overcome discursive silencing.
Periode20 okt. 2022
BegivenhedstitelECREA 2022: 9th European Communication Conference. Rethink impact
PlaceringAarhus, DanmarkVis på kort
Grad af anerkendelseInternational