Subordinating Speech and the Construction of Social Hierarchies

Dissertation, Georgetown University (2019)
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This dissertation fits within the literature on subordinating speech and aims to demonstrate that how language subordinates is more complex than has been described by most philosophers. I argue that the harms that subordinating speech inflicts on its targets (chapter one), the type of authority that is exercised by subordinating speakers (chapters two and three), and the expansive variety of subordinating speech acts themselves (chapter three) are all under-developed subjects in need of further refinement—and, in some cases, large paradigm shifts. I also examine cases that have yet to be adequately addressed by philosophers working on this topic, like the explosion of abusive speech online (chapter four) or the distinctive speech acts of protest groups (chapter five). I argue that by considering these alongside the ‘paradigm’ cases of subordinating speech that inform most models, we are better able to capture the lived realities of this phenomena, as described by members of groups targeted by such speech. I develop a novel account of speaker authority to explain the variety of pragmatic effects subordinating speech generates. Instead of seeing this authority as reducible to either a formal position or a merely local, linguistic phenomenon, I argue for a conception of speaker authority that is a richly contextual social fact, distributed unevenly among members of different social groups. I also develop an account of collective authority that explains how a group of speakers can join together to subordinate in a way that no individual speaker is capable of doing. This account, I argue, is better able to explain the social reality of subordinating speech than individualist models. Overall, I show how a more fine-grained account of subordinating speaker authority gives us a more accurate picture of the different subordinating speech acts available to different speakers, along with how these may harm their targets.

Author's Profile

Michael Randall Barnes
Australian National University


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