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Excluded and/or marginalized social groups frequently face problems involving representation in the public sphere. Moreover, the very notion of exclusion typically refers to communicatively or discursively produced mechanisms of being considered irrelevant in public processes of communication. Exclusion and marginalization, understood as processes of silencing or invisibilizing social groups, are particularly serious in cases involving social suffering, i.e. socially produced suffering and/or suffering that can be eliminated or alleviated socially. Making silence heard, giving voice to the silenced and bringing the invisibilized back into the public domain are therefore fundamental tasks of solidarity in reaching a higher degree of social integration.
The main aim of this article is to reveal how it is possible to disclose and understand the social grammar of the normative claims of silenced and invisibilized social groups. Therefore, grounded in Axel Honneth’s Theory of Recognition, I first develop a theoretic model of criticism that elucidates silent and invisible suffering as universal normative language (I). Next, I develop a typology of silencing and invisibilizing that allows research attention to be directed towards specific fields of normative claims with different validity claims (II). Finally, I offer some general advice with regard to performing empirical research aimed at normative social criticism that considers the grammar of the silenced and invisible language of suffering (III).