Fall 2020

Law, Speech, and the Politics of Freedom

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-330

Moodle site: Course


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


(Research Seminar) In the United States, “free speech” is held to be a legal, political, and moral ideal.  As interpreted over the last 100 years, the First Amendment has become a centerpiece and flashpoint of American liberal democratic values and processes.   But what, precisely, do we mean by “free” and “speech”?  This course will explore that question through the lens of linguistic and cultural theory, problematizing the classic liberal view by examining closely what speech is and what it does.  Conceptualizing speech as a performative act and the speaking self as opaque, sometimes irrational, and always embedded in a social context, we will explore the complexities and paradoxes of attempts to regulate something so dynamic and fundamental to human and political identity.  What is a speaking self?  How does speech act in the social world?  What is the political value of protest and of protecting “offensive” speech?  What are the effects of dangerous, threatening, or “low-value” speech and how should we respond to it?  How is identity shaped, contested, or damaged in language?  What if we do not always intend what we say, and how much should intent matter when assessing speech acts?  Should we regulate speech more in some places than others?  What happens to speech regulation, and to the speaking self, in a virtual world?  Students will conduct in-depth research projects and practice formal speaking skills in class.

 Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Umphrey. Course will be taught using HyFlex method.

If Overenrolled: Priority to LJST majors, then seniors and juniors


Attention to Research, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020