Special Issue. On Behalf of Silence

Special Issue. On Behalf of Silence

Lena Belova. White Banner, 2016 (courtesy of the artist)

Special Issue (winter 2022)


Edited by The Garage Journal


‘There is not one but many silences,’ writes Michel Foucault (1978) in The History of Sexuality, arguing that ‘we must try to determine the different ways of not saying things’ (p. 27). ‘Silence is not silent,’ Samya Achiri (2019) posits, quoting poet Sri Chinmoy, in her postcolonial feminist reading of Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness. Silence, in other words, can have numerous causes, manifestations and meanings.


The second half of the 20th century saw a surge in research on silence, first and foremost within the burgeoning feminist and postcolonial studies. Tillie Olsen’s (1978) book Silences, for instance, analyzed forms of women’s silence in literary texts. ‘Women’s silence,’ Marsha Houston and Cheris Kramarae (1991) write, ‘is not only apparent in the absence of their voices—from certain forums, on certain issues, before certain audiences—but also in the form and focus of their speech and writing’ (p. 388). In postcolonial thought, silence has been a recurring theme, analyzed in relation to colonial oppression as well as with regard to representations of the colonized by the colonizer (e.g. Lentin 2014; Trouillot 1995). Gayatri Spivak (1988) famously states that ‘there is no space from which the sexed subaltern subject can speak,’ marking this place of non-speaking ‘with something other than silence and nonexistence, a violent aporia between subject and object status’ (pp. 307, 306). Bringing feminist and postcolonial thought together, Spivak’s essay, due to its unequivocal formulation of the subaltern position, was seen by critics as posing a ‘challenge for the feminist effort to excavate a voice from under women’s silencing’ (Wagner 2012: 118, see pp. 117–8 for a brief overview). 


Roi Wagner (2012), in turn, starts from the premise that silence is not necessarily a result of subordination or oppression. It is not always an effect of silencing. His analysis focuses not on causes or meanings of silence, but on what choosing to remain silent can do. Wagner (2012) demonstrates that the subaltern, despite their own will, sometimes finds it hard to stay silent. This idea enters him into a polemic with Spivak (1988). According to Wagner (2012), silence ‘is not an absolute stance polar to speech and is not a position of ontological annihilation’ (p. 100). He thus argues that silence can be intentional and forceful, and performing it can amount to an act of ‘micro political resistance’ (Wagner 2012: 100).  


In this, Wagner (2012) follows Adam Jaworski (1993), Patricia M. Patterson (2000), and many others who offer analyses of silence beyond its communication of certain meanings—for instance, those who, as Jaworski, analyze silence as ‘a retractable discursive weapon’ (Wagner 2012: 117). Patterson (2000) summarizes the silencing/silence phenomena as follows: 


‘Silence is all one has, or all one is allowed; silence is fear and talk is trouble; silence is shame and talk undeserved; silence is resistance and talk is cheap; silence is golden and talk irrelevant; silence is privacy and talk is someone else’s cover; silence is listening and allows talk to be heard’ (p. 681, cit. in Wagner 2012: 117).  


It is the ‘silence is resistance’ part of this summary that we would like to explore in this special issue of The Garage Journal. Dedicated to existence in Russia after 24 February 2022, this issue will welcome submissions analyzing the authorities’ silencing practices, Russian citizens’ silence as an expression of fear or other affects, and others. Its key focus, however, will be on silence as a form of resistance. Building on Irina Sandormirskaja’s (2013) attention to ‘the state of colloquial language’ (sostoyanie obshchestvennogo yazyka), we are interested in what silences—or, more precisely, the aporias that they create in existing discourses—can do.


Wagner (2012) questions the ethics of representing those who choose to remain silent. And yet, in the absence of credible sociology with regard to Russian citizens’ attitudes to the war, and with attempts at macro or meso resistance severely suppressed by the authorities, we believe it both ethical and necessary to carry out such analyses. Moreover, dissecting the numerous silences in today’s Russia—speaking on behalf of them—can be the only possible way to speak. 


We are interested in: 


  • silencing practices of the authorities; 
  • discursive aporias and absences; 
  • silence as an artistic method; 
  • silence as a performance; 
  • practices of anti-silence (indirect resistance and/or words that are pronounced but have no meaning);    
  • analysis of necro-language practices (necroyaz, instances of ‘ne-moe slovo’ (not-my words/mute words), who reproduce senseless verbal representations and feeling of derealization; 
  • verbal practices of desubjectification or non-verbal mute resistance; 
  • silence as ‘a retractable discursive weapon’; 
  • other practices of silence as resistance.





1) Achiri S (2019) ‘Silence is not silent’: A postcolonial feminist appraisal of women silence in Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 7(12): 40–56.

2) Foucault M (1978) The History of Sexuality (vol. 1). New York, Pantheon.

3) Houston M; Kramarae C (1991) Speaking from silence: Methods of silencing and of resistance. Discourse & Society, 2(4): 387–399.

4) Jaworski A (1993) The Power of Silence: Social and Pragmatic Perspective. Newbury Park, CA, Sage.

5) Lentin A (2014) Postracial silences: The othering of race in Europe in Wulf. In: Hund D and Lentin A (eds), Racism and Sociology. Berlin, Lit.

6) Olsen T (1978) Silences. New York, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence. 

7) Patterson PM (2000) The talking cure and the silent treatment: Some limits of ‘discourse’ as speech. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 22(4): 663–95.

8) Sandormirskaja I (2013) Blokada v slove. Ocherki kriticheskoi teorii i biopolitiki yazika. Moscow, Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie. 

9) Spivak GC (1988) Can the subaltern speak? In: Nelson C and Grossberg L (eds), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana, University of Illinois Press.

10) Trouillot M-R (1995) Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Beacon Press. 

11) Wagner R (2012) Silence as resistance before the subject, or Could the subaltern remain silent? Theory, Culture & Society, 29(6): 99–124.



To submit a proposal, please provide the following information in English: 


• contribution type (e.g., article, visual essay, reflexive essay, data essay, etc.); 

• language of contribution (English, German or Russian); 

• title of contribution; 

• abstract (300 words); 

• key words that indicate the focus of the contribution (e.g., silencing practices, resistance, discourse); 

• biographical information, including a short biographical statement of maximum 100 words stating research interests and relevant professional experience, and a list of no more than 10 publications relevant to the themes of the special issue. 


Proposals for contributions are due on July 21, 2022. Send all the information requested above—as a single PDF document—to the GJ@garagemca.org 



Founded in 2019, The Garage Journal is an independent interdisciplinary platform advancing critical discussions about contemporary art, culture and museum practice in the Russian and global contexts. It publishes empirical, theoretical and speculative research in a variety of genres, celebrating innovative ways to present research. Fully peer-reviewed, it provides a source book of ideas for an international audience.