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Un-Ringing the Bell: McGowan on Oppressive Speech and the Asymmetric Pliability of Conversations

Simpson, RM; (2013) Un-Ringing the Bell: McGowan on Oppressive Speech and the Asymmetric Pliability of Conversations. Australasian Journal of Philosophy , 91 (3) pp. 555-575. 10.1080/00048402.2012.704053. Green open access

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Abstract

In recent work Mary Kate McGowan presents an account of oppressive speech inspired by David Lewis's analysis of conversational kinematics. Speech can effect identity-based oppression, she argues, by altering the conversational score-which is to say, roughly, that it can introduce presuppositions and expectations into a conversation, and thus determine what sort of subsequent conversational moves are apt, correct, felicitous, etc.-in a manner that oppresses members of a certain group (e.g. because the suppositions and expectations derogate or demean members of that group). In keeping with the Lewisian picture, McGowan stresses the asymmetric pliability of conversational scores. She argues that it is easier to introduce (for example) sexist presuppositions and expectations into a conversation than it is to remove them. Responding to a sexist remark, she thus suggests, is like trying to unring a bell. I begin by situating McGowan's work in the wider literature on speech and social hierarchy, and explaining how her account of oppressive speech improves upon the work of others in its explication of the relationship between individuals' verbal conduct and structurally oppressive social arrangements. I then propose an explanation and supportive elaboration of McGowan's claims about the asymmetric pliability of conversations involving identity-oppressive speech. Rather than regarding such asymmetry as a sui generis phenomenon, I show how we can understand it as a consequence of a more general asymmetry between making things salient and un-salient in speech, and I show how this asymmetry also operates in various cases that interested Lewis. © 2013 Australasian Association of Philosophy.

Type: Article
Title: Un-Ringing the Bell: McGowan on Oppressive Speech and the Asymmetric Pliability of Conversations
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/00048402.2012.704053
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/00048402.2012.704053
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Oppression, speech acts, sexism, conversational score-keeping
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10181250
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