Statewatch article: RefNo# 26125
“Silently Silenced - creation of acquiescence in modern society”
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 14 no 5 August-October 2004
Preface to a collection of essays by Thomas Mathiesen (Waterside Press, 2004)

This book contains a number of essays on the general theme of silent and unnoticed political silencing which I largely wrote during 1977-1978. Most of the essays were collected in book form in Norwegian and published by Pax Forlag in 1978. At the beginning of the 1980s, the book was translated and published in Swedish and German. I translated the book myself into English in 1981, adding one essay that had not appeared in the Norwegian version, but left the manuscript unpublished in a drawer. I was too preoccupied with other matters.

However, the theme of how - silently and unnoticed - people are brought to silence, especially political silence, continued to haunt me over the years and decades. It seemed and seems to me to be a process which penetrates social life, notably also political life, in all its forms, certainly also in other Western societies like ours which have freedom of expression and democracy on the agenda. So, in 2003 I took the manuscript out of the drawer and had it typed into a computer. Thanks are due to Helga Smári Hanssen and Magnus Gommerud Nielsen for their painstaking accuracy.

The manuscript remained in my computer for a while. Then something happened in my own life which placed the process of silent silencing in bold relief for me. It was intensely political and intensely personal. I had never thought that silent silencing could have such a force in a person’s life. In fact, I am silenced to the extent that I cannot write about it even now: maybe later if I live to be old enough. But I can say that what happened concerns the heart of what in Norwegian is called the ‘care system’, or ‘aid system’ (hjelpeapparatet). Ideally, the ‘care system’ is a part of the welfare system, and should in theory in different ways and through various institutions care for, help, support and provide treatment for people in various forms of distress, from psychiatric disorders to child welfare. However, in so far as it actually exists and is not a just a myth with symbolic functions for the welfare state, the ‘care system’ is structured in such a way that it silently and suavely makes clients and patients fall into silence, keep quiet, hold back their criticism, beware of protest, go along, be acquiescent and strategic.

But what happened at least jolted me to get the old manuscript up before me on the computer screen. It was a kind of vindication of the utmost importance of my concern with the topic.

This English translation includes all of the original essays which I had translated back in 1981. I have been tempted to augment, adapt and change the essays in line with events and developments since then. To a fair extent I have done so. The basic theoretical conceptualisation, with the emphasis on ‘silent silencing’, is new – in the original Norwegian version I discussed the issues in other terms that I now find less apt. Furthermore, in some of the essays I have deleted obviously obsolete material and added obviously clarifying passages, and also made a number of other changes. Other essays, however, largely remain as they were, the reason being that I think they are still relevant as they stand, only perhaps more so.....

Let me be very clear on this: what follows is not at all a denial of the existence and, indeed, the expansion of types of repression which are very ‘loud’, visible and physical rather than silent and quiet. If I had denied that, I would have gone against much of what I have been working on, academically and politically, through many decades. Prison figures are soaring in many Western countries, police forces are expanding in terms of number of personnel as well as in terms of technological equipment and areas of control in society. The ‘war against terrorism’, which started back in the 1990s but acquired new impetus after 11 September 2001, has been loud indeed, with bombs and killings. It has involve

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