Séminaire Invisible Lives / Silent Voices

This interdisciplinary and international seminar proposes to examine the various forms of social invisibility and the silencing of individuals and/or groups of populations. Invisibility is the result of power dynamics wherein dominant ideologies, groups or individuals silence precarious and vulnerable ones to political, economic or social ends. The voices of the precarious, who remain ‘outside of power’ (Le Blanc 2009) are undermined by that of the majority, and sink into deeper and deeper silence, resulting in social, political and even psychological dispossession or dehumanisation. Normative discourses and practices thus give way to asymmetrical relationships which deny vulnerable populations the ability to speak up and fully exist. Figures of non-conformity such as minorities, immigrants, women, along with the disabled and the poor are all in dissonance with oppressive and normative dynamics, raising the question of political and social representation in our contemporary societies. The recent series of events in 2020 and 2021, which targeted Black and Asian populations in the US and in Europe, reasserted the need to address questions of integration, recognition and visibilisation.

Such an investigation requires constantly asking whether some groups (researchers and scholars included), by speaking for the other, are not participating in erasing and silencing them. This seminar aims at questioning the perspective through which we consider invisible lives and silent voices, all the while examining the discursive frames in which they can freely emerge or willingly disappear. Creating a discussion around the invisible and the silent is – in a neoliberal context fueled by individualism, indifference, conflation, and threatening pandemics – crucial to shift back power to the marginalised and to ensure diversity and polyphony, in opposition to “a monopoly of voice whose narrative effects strongly contribute to invisibilise certain lives.” (Le Blanc).

We propose to investigate those processes of invisibilisation and silencing through multiple frameworks, methods and approaches: literature, music, cinema, cultural and visual studies, history, sociology and philosophy. These invaluable sources will further our understanding of invisible lives and silent voices: what defines the processes of invisibilisation and silencing? Who decides who is to be visible or not? Can silence and invisibility be a conscious choice, an act of resistance? Can art be a way to give a new voice and a new visibility to the left-behinds? Or does it also fall prey to the power dynamics responsible for invisibility?

This seminar will begin in October 2021 and will be held exclusively online for the 2021-2022 academic year. Each month, two scholars will present their research on one particular theme related to invisibility and silence, followed by a discussion with their audience.

This project results from the collaborative effort of Alice Borrego (EMMA, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3), Guillaume Le Blanc (LSCP, Université de Paris) and Héloïse Lecomte (IRHIM, ENS de Lyon). Our international partners include the University of Amsterdam, represented by Professor Esther Peeren (ASCA), Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, represented by Dr. Gero Guttzeit and Duke University, represented by Dr. Corina Stan (Representing Migration Humanities Lab).