English Seminar: The politics of disruption and the functions of speech
Nick Riemer, ‘The politics of disruption and the functions of speech’
Abstract: Debates on free speech and academic freedom, whether scholarly or polemical, often pay insufficient attention to situations where speech is not censored by the state or other sovereign authority, but disrupted by competing speakers. In this connection, David Estlund notes an ‘enormous moral presumption, which seems to be widely accepted, against speech-interfering protests’ at campus talks by invited speakers. There is, as it happens, probably no area in which liberal premises have been as widely or as uncritically internalized as in debates about protest and ‘free speech’ in universities. Critically inclined participants in these debates have often pointed out the inadequacies of the liberal conceptions of freedom operative in them. Less often appreciated is the inadequacy of the conception of speech itself: what it is, what it does, and what, so to speak, it is ‘for’. In the effort to understand the nature of speech events and disruptive protest more fully, it is important for analysis to be grounded in realism about their communicative, affective and interpellative properties, not in idealist (and idealistic) illusions. In the hope of contributing to a disabused approach to this topic, in this talk I will explore some intellectual and political aspects of public speech and protest events, asking what ‘freedom of speech’ is, ultimately, freedom of.
Biography: Dr Nick Riemer is in the English and Linguistics Departments at the University of Sydney, and a member of the Histoire des Théories Linguistiques laboratory at the Université de Paris. He is the author of The Semantics of Polysemy: Reading Meaning in English and Warlpiri (Mouton, 2005), Introducing Semantics (CUP, 2010) and The Routledge Handbook of Semantics (editor, 2015). As well as his research on the history and philosophy of linguistics, his current work also includes a project called ‘Boycott Theory: Universities, Intellectualism and Justice for Palestine’.
This event will be held online via Zoom.
University staff and students can join the event in the Woolley Common Room, Level 4, John Woolley Building (A20).
Contact: Liam Semler (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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