Silences and Secrets of Family, Community and the State

Keywords: Walls of silence, registers of silence, gender, generation, household, socialism, post-socialism, memory and commemoration, history, the state


In this article, we suggest that silence is often more about remembering than forgetting. We consider ways in which silences can occupy and dominate state discourse, community knowledge, family stories and individual narratives. Drawing on research material from Poland and the Czech Republic in the late socialist and post-socialist periods, we look at ways similar patterns of narrative fusion take place in various contexts in which both the public and the private domains are often shadowed by things veiled in secrecy and hidden from the general gaze. We argue that personal family and kin accounts of private things which for some reason cannot be spoken become entangled with, and to some extent communicated through, broader and more public historical narratives, and vice versa, and show how partial accounts are thus transmitted from generation to generation even while remaining largely unspoken. In developing our argument, we focus on the idea of walls of silence and on the process of drawingboundaries between people and the state, between generations (grandparents, parents and children) and between insiders and outsiders of communities. Suggesting that silence may be loud or quiet, we look at registers of silence and the ways in which they operate at the different levels of state, community and household. We ask what it means to hold certain kinds of knowledge, or to be excluded from these. At times, and for some people, knowledge may be a source of power or social or economic capital; for others, or in other contexts, being excluded from or rejecting knowledge, and thus not being privy to the subtexts of silence, may be a source or freedom and potential or possibility. 


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How to Cite
Haukanes, H., & Pine, F. (2021). Silences and Secrets of Family, Community and the State. Ethnologia Polona, 42.