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Communication as a Moral Vocation: Safe Space and Freedom of Speech

Hill, David ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3849-1170 (2020) Communication as a Moral Vocation: Safe Space and Freedom of Speech. The Sociological Review, 68 (1). pp. 3-16.

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The use of safe spaces in universities has become increasingly controversial over the last few years. Safe spaces are set up to offer an environment in which marginalised identities and hidden experiences can be given a voice, allowing for acceptance and affirmation. Their critics charge that they are at odds with the university as a site of debate; that their use has a chilling effect on free speech; and even that safe spaces are harmful to liberal democratic society itself. This article draws on social and cultural theory in order to counter these attacks on safe spaces. Working with Max Weber, Judith Butler and Emmanuel Levinas, the first section introduces the idea of communication as a moral vocation, calling for greater recognition of the need to balance the universal (freedom of speech) with a responsibility to hear voices that are not already amplified. Building on this, and drawing additionally on Jacques Derrida and Sara Ahmed, the second section introduces the idea of debate fetishism, which serves to negate the moral function of communication, naturalise the dominance of privileged voices, and neutralise the struggles of the struggling to be heard. It is concluded that safe spaces pose no threat to freedom of speech but that the stigmatisation of their use acts to further disadvantage underrepresented identities.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026119854857
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
School/Department: York Business School
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/3847

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