5. Gavan Titley on ‘Free Speech’

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In this episode, Rosie and Gavan Titley consider the politics behind ‘PC gone mad’ or ‘Cancel culture’ type controversies, and what might be distinctive or new about contemporary free speech related anxieties. Gavan explains the concepts of ‘post-racial’ societies and ‘frozen racism’ and how, when linked to dominant ideas about free speech, they are used to close down discussions about racism and racialisation.
Gavan Titley is based in the Department of Media Studies in Maynooth University, and the interview largely centres on his important book, ‘Is Free Speech Racist?’ which was published by Polity Press in 2020. It also anticipates some of the issues that will be explored in his upcoming book ‘What is Free Speech For?’ (Bristol University Press).
Gavan talks about his motivations for writing the books, before moving onto a philosophically rich exploration of what ‘free speech’ means and what it is (often) taken to mean. He explains how ‘commitments to free speech’ and a willingness to be ‘offended’ are used to police racialised non-European peoples and Muslims, in particular; how the cover of ‘freedom’ becomes a measure of their capacity to be integrated into western society, dovetailing with migration control and so-called counter-terrorism regimes.
It is also apparent, within the current conjuncture, that if some people and communities are deemed ‘suspect’ in relation to free speech, they are also deemed less deserving of it. The interview closes with some thoughts on the scope for activists to challenge or push back against these cynical and racist deployments of free speech in politically productive ways.
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