The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life

Paperback | October 1, 2007

byEviatar Zerubavel

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The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is a classic example of a conspiracy of silence, a situation where everyone refuses to acknowledge an obvious truth. But the denial of social realities--whether incest, alcoholism, corruption, or even genocide-is no fairy tale. In The Elephant in the Room, Eviatar Zerubavel sheds new light on the social and political underpinnings of silence and denial-the keeping of "open secrets." The author shows that conspiracies of silence exist at every level of society, ranging from small groups to large corporations, frompersonal friendships to politics. Zerubavel shows how such conspiracies evolve, illuminating the social pressures that cause people to deny what is right before their eyes. We see how each conspirator's denial is symbiotically complemented by the others', and we learn that silence is usually moreintense when there are more people conspiring-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 triggers an even greater spiral of denial. Drawing on examples from newspapers and comedy shows to novels, children's stories, and film, the book travels back and forth across different levels of social life, and from everyday moments to large-scale historical events. At its core, The Elephant in the Room helps us understand why weignore truths that are known to all of us. "Eviatar Zerubavelgathers intriguing ideas for books the way ace foreign correspondents acquire great stories: by reflecting on the obvious, then probing as well as reporting."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

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From the Publisher

The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is a classic example of a conspiracy of silence, a situation where everyone refuses to acknowledge an obvious truth. But the denial of social realities--whether incest, alcoholism, corruption, or even genocide-is no fairy tale. In The Elephant in the Room, Eviatar Zerubavel sheds new light...

Eviatar Zerubavel is a Board of Governors Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. His books include The Seven-Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week, The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life, and Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:176 pages, 5.2 × 7.8 × 0.31 inPublished:October 1, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195332601

ISBN - 13:9780195332605

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Table of Contents

Preface1. A Conspiracy of SilenceOpen Secrets - See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil - Fear and Embarrassment - The Heavy Hand of Silence: 2. The Rules of DenialAttention and Culture - Learning to Ignore - The Rules of Irrelevance - Taboo - Tact: 3. The Politics of DenialAttention and Power - Mind Your Own Business - Button Your Lip: 4. The Social Structure of DenialThe Double Wall of Silence - Denying the Denial - Bystanders and Enablers - Silence Like a Cancer Grows: 5. Breaking the SilenceFrom Awareness to Acknowledgment - Unveiling the Elephant - Blind Eyes and Deaf Ears: 6. Some Things are Better Left UnsaidSaving Face - Don't Rock the Boat: 7. The Trouble with ElephantsThe Ostrich and the Elephant: NotesBibliographyAuthor IndexSubject Index

Editorial Reviews

"Eviatar Zerubavel has always had a remarkable facility for examining everyday human life through a different and richer lens than the rest of us. He notes in this compelling essay that when people block something out of their line of vision or rearrange their memories in such a way as toforget something, they are involved in a personal act. But his main point is that those acts of blocking and forgetting and remaining silent are really collective behavior, a form of collusion, a product of the social world. This is a rare mind at work."--Kai Erikson, author of A New Species ofTrouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community