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Democracy and silence : rethinking the meanings and significance of silent citizenship in democratic systems Gray, Sean William David

Abstract

Contemporary democratic theory is focused on empowering voice in collective political decision-making. The opposite of voice is silence: Citizens may remain silent rather than vocalize their preferences, needs, interests, or ideals. Yet traditional understandings of voice and silence in democratic theory fail to capture the changing circumstances of politics in developed liberal democracies, including shifting patterns of participation and nonparticipation, rising levels of distrust and disaffection, and an increasing tendency among citizens to choose silence over voice. But because contemporary democratic theory equates silence with deficits of democracy the meanings and significance of silence have not been adequately conceptualized. How, then, should we theorize and assess the silence of citizens in a democracy? Can silence itself ever be a form of political engagement? In this dissertation, I offer tools for conceptualizing the dangers and possibilities for democracy that silent citizenship might pose, both as a symptom of political disempowerment and as an expression of political engagement. To do so, I develop a theoretical framework that maps different choices for silence to their expected political consequences. I identify four types of communicative silence that citizens may use to engage politically: affective, demonstrative, emulative, and facilitative communicative silence. I argue that, under certain circumstances, each of these four types of communicative silence can function as a low-cost, low-risk method for citizens to influence collective political decision-making, especially where opportunities for voice-based influence are limited. I suggest that greater attention to the expressive dimension of silent citizenship should motivate democratic theorists to design democratic institutions and practices to better anticipate and support communicative uses of silence in politics. To illustrate how the expressive possibilities of silent citizenship might be empowered, I propose a series of mechanisms that could enable and protect communicative choices for silence in electoral systems, representative relationships, and democratic deliberation. Understanding the democratic potentials of silence, I conclude, can provide a framework for evaluating otherwise neglected forms of political engagement, enhancing our capacity to imagine alternative means and methods of democratic influence, to improve collective decision-making, and to strengthen bonds of authorization and accountability between citizens and democratic institutions.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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