A Qualitative Approach to Spiral of Silence Research: Self-Censorship Narratives Regarding Environmental and Social Conflict

Christopher J. Ryan (2011)

The purpose of this research is to seek narratives of self-censorship from in-depth interviews of 19 participants acquired through a purposive (criterion) sampling protocol. The primary research question driving this study is “What types of sanctions contribute to people choosing to self-censor their strongly held beliefs, values, and opinions.” Previous research conducted on the topic of self-censorship (generally under the rubric of the spiral of silence theory) has been predominantly quantitative and consideration of sanctions influencing self-censorship have been limited to fear of social isolation. I suggest that ostensibly important sanction variables have not been utilized within these existing frameworks. I anticipated that this research, by utilizing a qualitative framework, would reveal other sanctions that operate in the self-censorship decision calculus. I also expected that interviews would portray a broader, more complete picture of how self-censorship operates and the variables that contribute to the construct. Research expectations were partially met as new variables in regard to specific fears of sanctioning were identified. These variables should contribute to self-censorship theory and more specifically, the frequently researched “spiral of silence” theory of mass communication and could be tested in quantitative research to verify their validity. Future research in this vein might consider testing additional sanction variables as part of a quantitative study, continue to refine the definition of self-censorship, develop better strategies to locate and secure additional informants, and continue to utilize qualitative methods to probe further into self-censorship questions.

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