Silence and Silencing: Their Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces in Legal Communication, Pedagogy and Discourse

Language and voice have been subjects of great interest to scholars working in the areas of Critical Race Theory and Latina/o Critical Legal Theory. Silence, a counterpart of voice, has not, however, been well theorized. This Article is an invitation to attend to silence and silencing. The first part of the Article argues that one’s use of silence is an aspect of communication that, like accents, is related to one’s culture and may correlate with one’s racial identity. The second part of the Article posits that silence can be a force that disrupts the dominant discourse within the law school classroom, creating learning spaces where deeper dialogue from different points of view can occur. The third part of the Article focuses on the silencing of racial issues within legal discourse and public policy debates, a silencing that is a mechanism for racial control and hegemony. The Article uses the work and imagery of Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary critic, to analyze how silence can have centering and de-centering linguistic force, offering performative and communicative choices that affect racial identities.