How Hate Speech Works

Hate speech poses puzzles for philosophers of language, society and politics. Michaela Popa-Wyatt takes an in-depth look in this lecture in our Words and Worlds series.

Hate speech poses puzzles for philosophers of language, society and politics. In this talk, I shall examine slurs, as a case study in hate speech. There are several questions arising. Why do some slurring utterances offend more than others? How do slurring utterances work in a conversation so as to offend? What other effects do slurring utterances have? How do slurring utterances have effects beyond the immediate conversation in which they are uttered? These questions can be answered by drawing on the idea of conversational games, the theory of speech acts and an understanding of how social roles influence conversation. Within a conversational game, slurring speech acts are exercises of power which change the rules governing the game. A further problem is how slurring utterances have effects beyond the conversation, such as contributing to changes in social norms. This effect can be explained by a system of hierarchical social and conversational games. Building on this idea of a hierarchical game, I will identify the ingredients required to model hate speech and its social effects.