Hate speech and distorted communication: rethinking the limits of incitement

When:29 Oct 2013, 1pm - 2:30pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310
Who:Dr Sarah Sorial, University of Wollongong
Sarah Sorial

Philosophy Seminar

Hate speech is commonly defined with reference to the legal category of incitement. Laws targeting incitement typically focus on how the speech is expressed rather than its actual content. This has a number of unintended consequences: first, law tends to capture overt or obvious forms of hate speech and not hate speech that takes the form of ‘reasoned’ argument, but which nevertheless, causes as much, if not more harm. Second, the focus on form rather than content leads to categorization errors. Hate speech taking the form of ‘reasoned argument’ is often legally characterized as either political or academic debate, and so is deemed both permissible and justified in societies where free speech principles exist.

In this paper, I argue that the danger in mischaracterizing an instance of hate speech by calling it academic or political debate is that it risks normalizing the views and sentiments that are expressed and accepting those views as an important part of our political and academic discourses. With reference to Habermas’ account of ‘distorted communication,’ I propose different criteria for defining and understanding hate speech and suggest that there might be good reasons for interpreting the concept of incitement more broadly, so as to include different kinds of hate speech.

Sarah Sorial is a senior lecturer in the Philosophy Program in the Faculty of Arts. She researches at the intersection of political philosophy and philosophy of law. She is the author of Sedition and the advocacy of violence: Free speech and counter-terrorism (Routledge, 2011), and had published on deliberative democracy, issues in rights theory, feminism and phenomenology.

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