Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Louise Richardson-Self

Louise Richardson-Self is a residential research fellow with the Humanities Institute’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project

H&C: What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?
R-S: I am a tenured lecturer at the University of Tasmania and teach units which contribute to both the Philosophy and Gender Studies majors. Prior to taking up my post at the University of Tasmania, I was a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, and was awarded my PhD in Philosophy from the University of Sydney in June 2014. I am the author of Justifying Same-Sex Marriage: A Philosophical Investigation (Rowman & Littlefield Intl. 2015), which emerged from research undertaken during the course of my PhD. Broadly speaking, my area of specialty is Feminist Philosophy, but I am particularly interested in events and issues that have contemporary political and ethical significance, privileging intersectionality. I am a Visiting Fellow to the Institute’s Humility & Conviction in Public Life project and will be in residence from mid-January to mid-February 2017.
H&C: What is the project you’re currently working on?
R-S: Currently I am researching hate speech. I’m interested in a variety of overlapping issues, but my main concern is to think through the problem of misogynistic hate speech against women. Little is said about women as targets of hate speech in philosophy, and I want to rectify this issue. That said, I am also interested in the evolution of hate speech alongside emerging technologies and integration of technology in our daily lives: how has the problem of hate speech changed with the emergence of the internet, smart devices, and social media? What are the harms of hate speech online and (how) do they differ from hate speech offline? Why do people disagree about what to do about hate speech (or whether anything should be done at all)? What new strategies can we devise to combat hate speech when legislation is too limited/limiting? These are all questions that I hope to work through. While I’m visiting UConn, I’ll be concentrating on an analysis of hate speech through the framework of social imaginaries – I hope that doing so will permit me to consider whether there is true understanding of the harms of hate speech amongst persons who are rarely, if ever, targeted.
H&C: How did you arrive at this topic?
R-S: Proposals to weaken Australian legislation forbidding hate speech initially sparked my interest in the topic. In my previous research (on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage) I had begun to consider and develop literature on social imaginaries, so it was with this framework in mind that I started to consider the contemporary problem of hate speech. Most philosophical analyses of hate speech utilise ‘speech act theory’ as a method for explaining the harms of hate speech (and sometimes, for justifying the need for legislative prevention/remedy). I hypothesize that applying a different theory to the issue may contribute new insights and provide a more robust understanding of the problem at hand. I do not want to see legislative protections weakened, but I am keenly aware that the law is not the solution to hate speech. We need to find alternative strategies which complement the law if we ever hope to reduce or eradicate the problem.
H&C: What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

R-S: I hope that my research will achieve a few things: I hope that my research will help people to better understand the harms of (misogynistic) hate speech, and how to identify it. I hope that my research will build scholarship on social imaginaries, and that this concept might begin to find greater purchase in the public sphere as a means for thinking through issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and so forth. I also hope that my research will enable greater empathetic connections with victims of hate speech and target groups, and greater recognition of each individual’s own intersectional location in the world. Of course, I hope that politicians, activists, and the general public will read and be moved by my scholarship, since the point of thinking through the problem of hate speech is to begin to build real-world strategies for change.

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