“Hated Speech”: What Speaking Truth to Power Entails
Speech is central to the anthropologist’s concern --- it is what allows them to become an “insider” into a community, it is rooted in relationality, and is what allows one to transcend the liminal. Speech as an act of communication has been at the root of discriminatory practices as well. Historically, certain kinds of speech have been marked as unwarranted, troublesome, and even heretical. Through the history of ideas, one constantly encounters this figure who disrupts the pristine order of power and status quo, in a bid to expose and explicate Truth, through speech acts (Austin, 1962). This speech is quite immediately sought to be done away with, by those who seek to maintain this status quo and regimes of power. In other words, this speech is hated.
Understanding “Hated Speech”
Recent scholarly endeavours have tended to focus on online vitriol and hate speech, with concepts like Extreme Speech and Violent Speech making their way into academic parlance. I seek to shift my gaze to the idea of Hated Speech, away from perpetrators of hate, to the perpetrated and the affected. Having delineated what Hated Speech is not, it becomes imperative to understand what it is.
Hated Speech is rooted in lived experiences of those experiencing hate in its multifarious forms, specifically in systemic and systematised hate, and beyond the interpersonal realm. It essentially captures the experiences of those who speak truth to power, and are in turn hated for doing so. From the stand-up comedian’s jokes to a doctor’s statement on lack of oxygen for medical purposes, and from expression through art and writing to those who speak out against everyday discrimination and injustices, examples of Hated Speech are quite impossible to miss. Dissent, in its various forms, begets hate, and the expression of dissent is Hated. The many mechanisms that are deployed to deal with such speech helps understand the communicative dimensions of Hate. This could range from silencing and censoring mechanisms to the usage of physical intimidation and violence by those who perpetrate hate. On the end of the affected and those whose speech is hated, the means of dealing with such mechanisms include tactical silences and strategic interventions, methods of resilience that include keeping the good faith and idealism in a larger truth alive.
Ethnography of Hated Speech
Conducting research in this realm means that one has to work with whatever forms the speech and communicative acts take. Methodologically, this means that one must be able to conduct an Anthropology of Hated Speech --- ethnographies of speech acts, analysing content, understanding verbal and non-verbal speech and silences, presence and absence, the liminal and beyond, thereby collapsing dichotomies. Ethnographies of protest sites, digital archives, recordings, offline conversations, observations of embodied presence are all part of such an exploration, and transcend neatly labelled methods and boxes owing to the fluidities of the researcher and the researched.
The Path Ahead
I will be working with this basic idea for a project titled, “Hated Speech and the Costs of Freedom in India”, through a small grant by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) over the next half a year. For this, I will be examining arenas ranging from intersectional identities and associated politics, to experiences with journalistic, creative and artistic expression, to phenomena like internet shutdowns in regions that are considered outside the mainstream, and experience hate. The path ahead looks daunting, but I hope this will be a small step that opens up future pathways in understanding and exploring Hated Speech --- the affective aspects of communication and the communicative dimensions of hate, alike.
Preeti Raghunath is an Assistant Professor at SIMC Pune.