Closed Minds? Is a ‘Cancel Culture’ Stifling Academic Freedom and Intellectual Debate in Political Science?

29 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2020 Last revised: 21 Aug 2021

See all articles by Pippa Norris

Pippa Norris

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Sydney

Date Written: August 3, 2020


Recent years have seen extensive debate in popular commentary about a pervasive ‘cancel culture’ thought to be taking over college campuses. A progressive orthodoxy, it is argued, has silenced conservative voices and diverse perspectives. This development, it is claimed, has ostracized contrarians, limited academic freedom, strengthened conformism, and eviscerated robust intellectual debate. But does systematic empirical evidence support these claims? After reviewing the arguments, Part II of this study outline several propositions arising from the cancel culture thesis and describes the sources of empirical survey evidence and measures used to test these claims within the discipline of political science. Data is derived from a new global survey, the World of Political Science, 2019, with 2,446 responses collected from scholars studying or working in 102 countries. Part III presents the results. Part IV summarizes the key findings and considers their broader implications. Overall the study confirms the significant impact of Left-Right ideology on reported experience of the cancel culture in political science – but important contrasts were found in post-industrial and developing societies.

Update: Expanded paper Pippa Norris "Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?" now published here:

Political Studies August 2021.

Suggested Citation

Norris, Pippa, Closed Minds? Is a ‘Cancel Culture’ Stifling Academic Freedom and Intellectual Debate in Political Science? (August 3, 2020). HKS Working Paper No. RWP20-025, Available at SSRN: or

Pippa Norris (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1475 (Phone)
617-496-2850 (Fax)

University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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