Silence and Denial in Everyday Life
The Elephant in the Room looks at how, why, and with what consequences it is possible for things to be known and 'not known' at the same time by individuals in a group.
Zerubavel marshals a host of examples – from families that avoid discussing a member's cancer to the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy – to identify the common features of conspiracies of silence at all levels of society. He unravels the normative as well as political underpinnings of silence and denial, as well as the social dynamics of conspiracies of silence. Noting how each 'conspirator's' actions are symbiotically complemented by the others', he shows that silence is usually more intense when there are more people conspiring to maintain it and especially when there are significant power differences among them.
He concludes by showing that the longer we ignore 'elephants' the larger they loom in our minds, as each avoidance typically triggers an indefinitely recursive spiral of denial.