Daniel Steinbock, Phd

Awkward Silence

Theory and explanation of an embarrassment

As an anthropologist interested in the subtleties of realtime social interaction, I have often wondered about the phenomenon of uncomfortable silence.

Why are some silences in social situations experienced as awkward or embarrassing, while others pass unnoticed? Why do some silences have a clear cause (e.g. someone asks an impolite question) while others arise inexplicably?

My doctoral dissertation was about group silence in social interaction, based on a 4-year ethnographic study of a Quaker community. Among other things, I analyzed and explained the link between uncomfortable silence, creative process, and mystical experience. You can read an 8-page short version here or, for the brave of heart, the full dissertation.