Submitted by Martha M. Umphrey

MM Umphrey                                                             Office hours: 

207 Clark                                                                    Wednesday 1-3 and by appointment

x 8206                                                                        






Spring 2008


            In the United States, the idea of free speech is held to be both a political and moral ideal.  The First Amendment makes freedom of speech a centerpiece of liberal democratic values and processes, and thus of American identity itself.   But what, precisely, do we mean when we link the ideas of freedom and speech?  What kinds of speech, and what kinds of freedom, are implicated in that linkage?  Correlatively, what does it mean to “censor”?  This course will approach the idea of “free speech” through the lens of linguistic and cultural theory, pushing back against the most commonly held views about what free speech is and what it means.  Conceptualizing speech as a kind of act and the speaking self as opaque and sometimes irrational, we will put into question certain fundamental assumptions that undergird First Amendment doctrine, assumptions that misunderstand what speech is and what it does even as, or perhaps because, they offer a strong and problematic account of the liberal self in relation to the state.  As we will see, the censorship of dangerous, threatening, or “low-value” ideas – both by the state and by others – paradoxically silences and produces speech at the same time, both about the censored ideas and about speech itself and its relation to freedom. 


Course requirements (see handout for specifics)


            1.  Speaking in class on a current event

            2.  Two take-home papers

            3.  One research project


Required texts


            JL Austin, How to Do Things with Words        

            Sigmund Freud, Dora:  An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria  

            Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1  

            Catharine MacKinnon, Only Words        

            Judith Butler, Excitable Speech


Multilith available at the LJST office, 208 Clark House


Honor Code:  I maintain an honor code in all my classes.  See accompanying handout.





“Free speech”


            JS Mill, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion”

            Habermas, Social Structures of the Public Sphere”

            JB White, “Speech in the Empire”


Speech Acts and their Infelicities


            JL Austin, How to Do Things with Words (excerpts)      

            Tracy v. Illinois

            New York Times v. Sullivan


Repression and Production


            Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1


Confession and Silence


            Freud, Dora

            Brewer v. Williams

            Miranda v. Arizona      

            Constable, “Brave New Words:  The Miranda Warning as Speech Act”




            Plato, The Republic, book 10 (excerpt)

            Foucault, Fearless Speech (excerpts)

            King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

            Meiklejohn, Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government (excerpts)

            Schenck v United States

            Abrams v United States

            Texas v Johnson

            Morse v Frederick

            Colbert parody


The Obscene and Indecent


            United States v One Book Called Ulysses           

            Miller v. California

            NEA v. Finley, 524 US 569 (1998)

            Dubin, “The Trials of Robert Mapplethorpe”

            Documents from Culture Wars


Speech and Pain


            Scarry, from The Body in Pain

            MacKinnon, Only Words

            RAV v St. Paul

            Nielson, “Experiencing Offensive Public Speech”      

            Harris v Forklift Systems


            Butler, Excitable Speech

            US v. Thomasson


Free Speech and Liberal Dreams


            Brown, “Freedom’s Silences”

            Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance”

            Fish, “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too”