Positive Propaganda and The Pragmatics of Protest

In Michael Cholbi, Brandon Hogan, Alex Madva & Benjamin S. Yost (eds.), The Movement for Black Lives: Philosophical Perspectives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Usa. pp. 139-159 (2021)
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Abstract

This chapter examines what protest is from the point of view of pragmatics, and how it relates to propaganda—specifically what Jason Stanley calls ‘positive propaganda.’ It analyzes the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” taking it to be a political speech act that offers a unique route to understanding of the pragmatics of protest. From this, it considers the moral-epistemological function of protest, and develops an account of the authority that protest, as a speech act, both calls upon and makes explicit. It then argues that, rather than simply its effects, it is protest’s distinct pragmatic features—that is, its entitlement conditions, and the uptake it aim at—that best capture its important moral, political, and epistemic elements. It therefore rejects the idea that protests are paradigmatic examples of ‘positive propaganda,’ because the propaganda model cannot capture protests’ function of foregrounding the socially located moral authority of the protestor.

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Michael Randall Barnes
Australian National University

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