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When Hate Circulates on Campus to Uphold Free Speech

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-83867-059-7, eISBN: 978-1-83867-058-0

Publication date: 5 August 2019


On Inauguration Day 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos gave a talk sponsored by the University of Washington College Republicans entitled “Cyberbullying Isn’t Real.” This chapter is based on participant-observation conducted in the crowd outside the venue that night and analyzes the violence that occurs when the blurring of the boundaries between “free” and “hate” speech is enacted on the ground. This ethnographic examination rethinks relationships between law, bodies, and infrastructure as it considers debates over free speech on college campuses from the perspectives of legal and public policy, as well as those who supported and protested Yiannopoulos’s right to speak at the University of Washington. First, this analysis uses ethnographic research to critique the absolutist free speech argument presented by the legal scholars Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman. Second, this essay uses the theoretical work of Judith Butler and Sara Ahmed to make claims concerning relationships between speech, vulnerability, and violence. In so doing, this chapter argues that debates over free speech rights on college campuses need to be situated by processes of neoliberalization in higher education and reconsidered in light of the ways in which an absolutist position disproportionately protects certain people at the expense of certain others.



Johnson, J. (2019), "When Hate Circulates on Campus to Uphold Free Speech", Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 80), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 113-130.



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