Performative Censorship: Why Some Free Speech Conflicts Should Be Taken Seriously but Not Literally

George, Cherian. 2024. ‘Performative Censorship: Why Some Free Speech Conflicts Should Be Taken Seriously but Not Literally’. Media, Culture & Society. Volume 46, Issue 3 https://doi.org/10.1177/01634437231203881

16 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2024 Last revised: 3 Apr 2024

See all articles by Cherian George

Cherian George

Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) - School of Communication; AcademiaSG

Date Written: November 1, 2023

Abstract

In some speech-related disputes, censors do not gauge their success by whether the challenged cultural product or practice has been suppressed in accordance with their explicit demands. This article proposes a theory of performative censorship that can help explain this paradox. Building on the concepts of expressive laws and symbolic crusades from legal studies and social movement studies respectively, performative censorship disputes are defined as contentious episodes in which demands for or against speech regulation are expressed partly for the broader objective of gaining recognition for a group’s way of life, dignity or status. Case studies of two highly contentious conflicts are offered: over Confederate statues in the United States and cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. The case studies show that movements’ goals and tactics are neither uniform nor static, making them more complex but also presenting opportunities for de-escalation.

Keywords: censorship, culture wars, freedom of expression, polarization, social movements

Suggested Citation

George, Cherian, Performative Censorship: Why Some Free Speech Conflicts Should Be Taken Seriously but Not Literally (November 1, 2023). George, Cherian. 2024. ‘Performative Censorship: Why Some Free Speech Conflicts Should Be Taken Seriously but Not Literally’. Media, Culture & Society. Volume 46, Issue 3 https://doi.org/10.1177/01634437231203881 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4692501 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4692501

Cherian George (Contact Author)

Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) - School of Communication ( email )

5 Hereford Road, Kowloon Tong
Kowloon
Hong Kong

AcademiaSG ( email )

Singapore
Singapore

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