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Title: Speech, sex, and social norms
Author: McDonald, Lucy
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis contains five essays about speech, sex, and social norms. In each of the first four essays, I analyse a different communicative phenomenon: discriminatory pejoratives (Chapter 1), cat-calling (Chapter 2), shaming (Chapter 3), and flirting (Chapter 4). In Chapter 5 I reflect on how our models of speech bear on issues of autonomy and power, manifested in differing roles assigned to ‘uptake’. Each essay is self-contained, but taken together they present a picture of how speech constructs identities and enforces norms, especially those governing gender and sexuality. The essays face in two directions. They face outwards from philosophy in so far as they use tools from philosophy of language to make sense of under-analysed communicative phenomena, drawing also on moral psychology, linguistics, and sociology. Discriminatory slurs (especially misogynistic ones), cat-calling, shaming, and flirting have all been neglected by philosophers, despite their social significance. Many of them play a key role in sustaining unjust social practices and structures. By illuminating the nature and function of these phenomena, the essays enhance our understanding and provide resources for political activism. The essays face inwards to philosophy in so far as they apply philosophical tools to social phenomena in order to reveal the shortcomings of those tools. None of the phenomena I consider are compatible with the standard, idealised model of communication. The essays demonstrate that communication is not as co-operative, transparent, or socially homogeneous as theorists have had us believe, and they make clear that linguistic theorising cannot be divorced from political considerations. Thus the essays show that just as philosophy of language can help further feminist ends, attention to issues of feminist concern can help refine philosophy of language.
Supervisor: Langton, Rae ; Chambers, Clare Sponsor: University of Cambridge ; AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: philosophy of language ; feminist philosophy ; moral psychology ; gender ; sex ; harassment ; hate speech ; speech act theory ; presupposition ; social norms ; slurs ; shaming