Slurs, roles and power

Mihaela Popa-Wyatt, Jeremy L. Wyatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Slurring is a kind of hate speech that has various effects. Notable among these is variable offence. Slurs vary in offence across words, uses, and the reactions of audience members. Patterns of offence aren’t adequately explained by current theories. We propose an explanation based on the unjust power imbalance that a slur seeks to achieve. Our starting observation is that in discourse participants take on discourse roles. These are typically inherited from social roles, but only exist during a discourse. A slurring act is a speech-act that alters the discourse roles of the target and speaker. By assigning discourse roles the speaker unjustly changes the power balance in the dialogue. This has a variety of effects on the target and audience. We show how these notions explain all three types of offence variation. We also briefly sketch how a role and power theory can help explain silencing and appropriation. Explanatory power lies in the fact that offence is correlated with the perceived unjustness of the power imbalance created.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2879–2906
Number of pages28
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2018


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