Cancel culture: Heterodox self-censorship or the curious case of the dog-which-didn’t-bark
32 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2023
Date Written: July 2023
There is widespread concern that academic freedom is threatened by growing demands for intellectual conformity and attempted censorship from intolerant zealots involving ‘woke wars’ and a ‘cancel culture’ pitting the socially liberal progressive left against the socially conservative right. This study seeks to understand the nature and scope of contemporary threats to academic freedom of expression around the world, especially the role of self-censorship in this process. Part I unpacks the notion of a ‘cancel culture’ in academia, understood as a chilly climate silencing speech deemed derogatory, hostile, factually incorrect, or morally offensive. The research explores processes of self-censorship where scholars are unwilling to express their authentic views in public. Mechanisms potentially driving these processes include heterodox status (cultural minorities out of step with majority views aka fish-out-of-water); institutions (constitutional principles, legal frameworks and administrative regulations used by educational authorities to govern academic speech); culture (attitudes, values, and social norms towards free speech); and academic status (inequalities in academic power, security, gender, and age). To establish empirical evidence, Part II sets out the research design. It draws upon new survey data collected from the second ECPR-IPSA World of Political Science survey (WPS-2023), monitoring the background and attitudes of almost 2000 political scientists living and working in around 100 countries worldwide. Part III analyzes the key results, confirming the reluctance of heterodox scholars to challenge majority views in controversial debates. The conclusion in Part IV summarizes the findings, considers their broader implications, and discusses the next steps in the research agenda.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation