Social Philosophy

Are we losing the ability to practice free speech?

Dr John Roberts
Wednesday, 11 May 2022 - 7:00pm


Dr John Roberts' talk will explore whether contemporary issues that impact on free speech - such as no-platforming at universities and so-called 'cancel culture' on social media - mean that we are losing the ability to engage in free speech debates.

By looking at free speech examples from British history, and by probing some well-known theories, John will suggest that many of the concerns and worries about free speech today have often been voiced in the past.  He will also suggest that, as in the past, some of these concerns and worries are frequently exaggerated.  Instead of losing the ability to engage and practice free speech, he will argue that free speech debates are in relatively good shape.  So instead, do we need to rethink how we view free speech?

Rather than ask whether we are losing the ability to practice free speech, we need to explore who or what is politically framing the way we speak about free speech in the first place.  This is because free speech issues are almost always used socially and politically by certain groups (e.g. political parties and political activists) or organisations (e.g. newspapers or think tanks) to frame public issues within their own wider respective political agenda.


About the speaker

John Roberts is currently a professor of political sociology at Brunel University.  He completed his PhD at Cardiff University, which looked at how social and political movements struggled for free speech rights in Hyde Park, London, from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century.  He recently returned to this topic for a funded project on social and political movements, free speech, and Hyde Park from 1945 to 2017.

John also writes on digital media, global political economy and the changing nature of work. He has also just finished writing a new book published by Edinburgh University Press: ‘Digital, Class, Work - Before and During COVID-19’.

Image: Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London, 1930s - photographer unknown.



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