Dissertation Defense: Cassie Herbert
Tuesday, June 6 at 4:00pm to 6:00pm
New North, 204 37th and O St., N.W., Washington
Candidate Name: Cassie Herbert
Advisor: Rebecca Kukla, Ph.D.
Title: Exclusionary Speech and Constructions of Community
This project explores the complex ways language, social power, and identity entwine to structure social interactions and the contours of community boundaries. How an audience takes up discursive moves can constitute who is trusted and taken seriously as a knower and who is held in a position of skepticism. How we signal our identity through language moves can impact the epistemic agency an audience takes us to be employing. Derogative terms, such as racial slurs and words like ‘slut’ or ‘lame,’ target social groups, are connected to a history of oppression against that group, and using these terms can structure interactions with group member in complex ways. The words we use can, even unwittingly, subtly alienate and outgroup members of already vulnerable groups. Each chapter draws on speech act theory to serve as an entry point into the extraordinarily complex ways our discursive practices structure our social world and normative interactions. I begin by examining ‘risky’ speech and how distorted responses to such speech can impact community constitution. To do this, I develop an account of two different kinds of speech acts – accusations and reports – and explore the performative structure of each. In the next chapter I offer a pragmatic account of discursive signaling. Discursive signaling is when we use linguistic moves to call into salience particular aspects of our identity in a given context, which structures how we and those around us understand and navigate those moments and situations. In the third chapter I develop an expanded conceptual taxonomy of harmful speech. I argue that there is a multidimensional continuum of terms, which I term derogatives, that share some or all of the features of paradigmatic slurs. In the fourth chapter, I explore the pragmatics of reclamation projects. I argue that the performative structure of reclamation makes the projects precarious and open to causing harm. In the final chapter, I offer an account of the perlocutionary effects of mentioning slurs. I argue that slurs act as a powerful mechanism for priming pernicious implicit biases about the targeted group. I offer practical guidance for how to navigate talking about slurs.
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