What You Need to Know About : Muted Group Theory

The muted group theory, initially developed by Edwin Ardener and Shirley Ardener, focuses on the ways that the communication practices of dominant groups suppress, mute, or devalue the words, ideas, and discourses of subordinate groups. The theory is concerned with what and how much people with differing social status speak, when and where they speak, with what words and concepts, in what modes or channels, and with what repercussions. The muted group theory encourages attention to the ways that language systems and practices are not created equal by all speakers. The theory suggests that an important way that a social group creates and maintains its dominance is by stifling the speech and ideas of those the dominant group has labeled as outside the privileged circle.

Historically, the hierarchies of, for example, gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, caste, religion, country of origin, national identity, aboriginal status, immigration status, regional geography, and language have been used to constrain and devalue the talk and ideas of many speakers. Because these hierarchies are constantly constructed through language and communication, the muted group theory provides one valuable framework for looking at the relationship, and particularly the communication, between asymmetrical groups.

Members of subordinate groups do, of course, speak. People attached or assigned to subordinate groups may have a lot to say, but in mixed situations they may have little power to say it without getting into trouble. Their words (and interests and work), unless presented in a form acceptable to those in dominant groups, are often not considered as understandable by or as important to those in dominant groups as are the words, interests, and work of the dominant group. The speech of those in subordinate groups is often disrespected, and their knowledge often not considered sufficient for decision or policy making. Their experiences are often reinterpreted for them by others, and they are encouraged to see themselves as represented by the words and concepts in the dominant discourse. A premise of the muted group theory is that members of stifled groups may, at least at times, experience a doubleness of existence, seeing reality both as it is experienced from a dominant perspective and also from their own, muted, perspective.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.667

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan