Silence does not mean that someone or some people cannot speak. It means that recognition has not taken place on some level. Here is a dictionary derived definition of the term “silent” (From http://www.merriam-webster.com):
silent (adj): 1. not exhibiting the usual signs or symptoms of presence; 2. yielding no detectable response to stimulation; 3. having no detectable function or effect
These definitions all describe anthropology in one way or another. On one hand, there are many people who would say that anthropology has no use or function within larger conversations about human experiences and practices. These people often do not see how anthropology sits directly under the proverbial skin of human sociality. Anthropology attempts to define what hasn’t been defined before. Thus, anthropology is often unrecognizable for its use value. Additionally, as a particular type of marginalized person within anthropology, I feel that I don’t exhibit the signs of presence that make sense within larger anthropological conversations. For example, I am a social-cultural anthropologist who is from the U.S. South and from Native America (and who has worked in American healthcare). I also study the U.S. South and Native America (and American healthcare). The precedent within anthropology is to study “others”. Thus, my anthropology is quite unique because I am of the opinion that anthropological knowledge can come from studying those things closest to us. In articulating our knowledge of them we find that the most intimate is often the most foreign.
My anthropological inquiry is also based on identifying why certain elements of human experience are considered out of place. I am interested in how life becomes ordered. This has lead to my fascination with human intervention. I believe that humans want to intervene in the world to correct their visions of chaos. In ordering the world, humans often recognize and fight against the disordering that certain people live under. Most people consider Christian conversion to be the epitome of this ordering. However, all humans, even those who attempt to transform the world in non-religous ways, attempt to order the world as they see it. In that respect, why we intervene is an important area of concern and tends to fuel private and public debate.
So, the value of silence is up for debate. It is no longer something that pervades our human experiences. Rather, we often create silence, either through commission or omission. Yes, even my esteemed colleagues in anthropology. They have blind spots and biases which are quite frightening. But this is every tribe and community. We preserve ourselves as social beings by utilizing silence. I began to toy with this concept in a small article that I wrote a few years back: link North American Dialogue (my article begins on pg. 30)