The Anatomy of Cancel Culture
Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1766
2 Journal of Free Speech Law 205 (2022)
55 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2023
Date Written: March 3, 2023
In this paper, I undertake a qualitative exploration of how social regulation of speech works in practice on university campuses, and of the extent to which social regulation in practice affirms or undermines the stereotypes and caricatures that characterize the cancel-culture wars. I first summarize the two narratives that anchor public debates over the social regulation of speech—consequence culture and cancel culture. I then describe the social regulation of speech and its five phases: dissemination, accusation, pillory, sanction and direct action. I explain how these five phases were reflected in the speech events under study and the extent to which their real-world features challenge or support the cancel-culture and consequence-culture narratives. I end by suggesting further research on the implications of this phases framework for efforts to balance universities’ dual commitments to free speech and inclusive community on their campuses.
Keywords: Free Speech, Cancel Culture, Consequence Culture, Social Regulation, Campus Speech, Culture Wars
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