CALL – 10. Silence at stake. For a critical analysis of fieldwork relationships in the production of anthropological knowledge

Panel organised by Giovanna CAVATORTA and Chiara PILOTTO

Being accountable about how we collect data in fieldwork is one of the issues at stake for ethnography as a gnoseological practice. It entails being engaged in the critical analyses of the fieldwork relationships as a condition underlying the knowledge produced by ethnography.

This workshop proposes to promote a discussion on an aspect of fieldwork that is often hidden, elusive and difficult to record, but that constitutes a fundamental part of the production of anthropological knowledge: silence. Silence may be referred to « empty » moments of everyday life or linked to social situations of conflict and violence, being framed as a symptom of traumas or as the imposed effect of a political context.

But there are many other complex and meaningful forms of silence that circulate in every field and are produced by every actor involved. We have chosen to draw our attention to how in fieldwork practice we produce and manage silences, both ours and our « interlocutors’ ».

We propose to consider silence as a thick object that both is produced by situated social dynamics and reveals them. As a practice involved in fieldwork relationships, it can also creates limits and challenges for the researcher.

In this framework several theoretical and methodological questions rise. How to grasp the silent work of norms, values, and political judgments that define what has, or doesn’t have, to be hidden, shown, and said ? What approach should we adopt to grasp what people can’t say, or are not able to say ? How to inquire into silences and reticences that come out of tensions related to marginalization and tabooization processes ? How to enlighten the opaque and mute power relations that structure fieldwork relationships, in which the ethnographer doesn’t necessarily fill the privileged position ?

Moreover, how to manage the silences with which our « interlocutors’ » react to our presence in the field ? What do they tell us about the fieldwork relationship as a power/knowledge relationship ? How does silence impact the construction of the research object and its question by influencing the ethnographic practices themselves ?

What ethical relationship is possible among the different actors who constitute the field, considering the ethnographer’s silences about the aim and circulation of his/her work, and his/her « informants’ » silences with regard to what they want subtract from the inquiry ?

We’ll welcome papers that try to answer these questions and more generally deal with the complexity of silence, both as a social and an ethnographic fact.

Selective bibliography

Achino-Loeb M.-L. (2006), Silence. The Currency of Power, Londres, Berghahn Books.

Das V. (2007), Life and Words. Violence and the descent into the ordinary, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Le Breton D. (1997), Du silence : essai, Paris, Métailié.

Makaremi C. (2008), « Engaging with Silence. Interview with Vincent Crapazano », in Kalaora L., Makaremi C. & J. Baron (dir.), « Penser l’engagement », Altérités Vol. 5, No. 2, Octobre 2008.

McLean A. & Leibing A. (2007), The Shadow Side of Fieldwork : Exploring the Blurred Borders between Ethnography and Life, Oxford, Blackweel Publishing.

Róisín R.-F. & Gill R. (2010), Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process. Feminist Reflections, New York, Routledge.

Taussig M. (1999), Defacement : Public Secrecy and the Labor of the Negative, Stanford, Stanford University Press.


Submit your proposal/abstract via email attachment to Giovanna CAVATORTA ( and Chiara PILOTTO (

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