Testing the 'Campus Cancel Culture' Hypothesis
44 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2023
Date Written: March 18, 2023
The notion that free expression in liberal democracies is not threatened formally by the state, but informally by cultural norms is a classic argument in the social sciences. Building on this argument, I conceptually reconstruct concerns over ‘campus cancel culture’ as a culturalist context hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that prevalent tolerance norms and protest practices in university environments shape individuals’ propensity to remain silent and self-censor. Based on a survey data set of around 20’000 undergraduate students from 55 US university contexts and relying on a hierarchical modeling strategy, I find broad support for the predictions of the campus cancel culture hypothesis. In further analyses, I rule out alternative hypotheses put forward in the debate, including the role of political ideological imbalances as well as the empowerment of female, ethnic minority, and sexual minority students. Taken together, the results reported in this paper provide an evidence-based contribution to the polarized discussion over free speech, student protests and cancel culture at the universities. They also have important implications for our understanding of democratic political culture more generally.
Keywords: Cancel Culture, Free Expression, Self-Censorship, Political Tolerance, Higher Education
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