As an anthropologist interested in the subtleties of 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?
Having spent four years studying social silence among Quakers, I realized I’d already discovered answers to these uncomfortable questions. So I wrote the following academic paper on the subject. (Please excuse the convoluted academic prose until I get around to writing a pop piece.)