Rethinking covert stuttering


Purpose The experience of passing as fluent, also called covert stuttering, has been uncritically framed as an inherently negative pursuit. Historically passing has been understood as a repression of one's true, authentic self in response to either psychological distress or social discrimination. The authors of this paper seek a more nuanced understanding of passing. We ask, how must a person relate to herself in order to pass as fluent? Methodology This is a qualitative research study in which the authors utilized the ethical theories of philosopher Michel Foucault to contextualize data obtained from semi-structured interviews with nine participants who pass as fluent. Results Rather than a repression of an authentic self our data suggests passing is more usefully understood as a form of resistance by people who stutter to a hostile society. Participants learned from experiences of delegitimization that their stuttering had ethical ramifications. Consequently, they used a variety of self-forming practices to pass and thereby achieve the privileges that come with perceived able-bodiedness. Conclusion Passing as fluent is not an inauthentic form of stuttering but a form of stuttering that is produced through the use of specific technologies of communication. These technologies of communication are constituted by the unique ethical relationship of the person who stutters with herself. Passing can be understood as an active form of resistance rather than a passive form of repression. By theorizing passing as fluent as an ethical relationship, we open up the possibility of changing the relationship and performing it differently.

Publication Title

Journal of Fluency Disorders