Presupposition and Propaganda: A Socially Extended Analysis

In Laura Caponetto & Paolo Labinaz (eds.), Sbisà on Speech as Action. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 275-298 (2023)
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Drawing on work from Marina Sbisà’s “Ideology and the Persuasive Use of Presupposition” (1999), Rae Langton has developed a powerful account of the subtle mechanisms through which hate speech and propaganda spread. However, this model has a serious limitation: it focuses too strongly on individual speech acts isolated from their wider context, rendering its applicability to a broader range of cases suspect. In this chapter, I consider the limits of presupposition accommodation to clarify the audience’s role in helping hate speakers, and claim the necessary mechanisms are much more active and social than Langton suggests, with effects not capturable in the analysis of isolated speech acts. I revisit Sbisà’s work on presupposition and develop an alternative model that (1) improves upon the Langtonian model for explaining the power of hate propaganda, and (2) is more in line with Sbisà’s original approach to ideology and the normative aspects of presupposition.

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Michael Randall Barnes
Australian National University


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