When facing frightening situations, people may resort to denial, and frightening information often becomes undiscussable as a result. Indeed, fear is a major source of silence, as in situations where a group of people tacitly agrees to ignore something of which they are all personally aware. Such situations, commonly known as “conspiracies of silence,” involve the sociological phenomenon of co-denial — perfectly captured in the famous image of the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Yet fear is not only a major source, but also a major product, of conspiracies of silence. When no one else around us acknowledges the presence of the proverbial elephant in the room it only seems more frightening. To overcome fear, we must therefore discuss the undiscussables that help produce it in the first place.
Eviatar Zerubavel has been Professor of Sociology at Rutgers since 1988. From 1992 to 2001 he served as the director of the Rutgers sociology graduate program. In 2000-01 he served as Chair of the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association. In 2003 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches graduate courses in cognitive sociology, time and memory, and sociological theory. His has held teaching appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, Queens College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His publications include Patterns of Time in Hospital Life: A Sociological Perspective (1979); Hidden Rhythms: Schedules and Calendars in Social Life (1981); The Seven-Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week (1985); The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life (1991); Terra Cognita: The Mental Discovery of America (1992); Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (1997); The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books (1999); Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past (2003); and The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life (2006).