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Jakob Norberg

Hannah Arendt and Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich produced influential accounts of the postwar West-German population's silence or inarticuleteness. The Mitscherlichs claimed that this silence was symptomatic of a blocked process of mourning; Arendt saw it as a legacy of brutal totalitarian rule. However, both viewed the rapid economic recovery as evidence of the German inability to engage in discursively mediated therapeutic and political processes. Frantic busyness was a form of silence. This paper presents a critical reassessment of these approaches. By drawing on Albert Hirschman's theory of exit and voice, it argues that economic activity possesses a communicative dimension. The alleged retreat from politics is not a symptom of muteness but rather indicates people's preference for an alternative mode of communication. Arendt and the Mitscherlich may be right in assuming a correlation between the postwar economic recovery and ostensible political apathy, but lack the conceptual means to clarify the relationship.