May 2018

Year in Review: Words That Kill

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AS WE MOVE QUICKLY TOWARDS A NEW YEAR, WE ARE TAKING A MOMENT TO LOOK BACK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF 2018 WITH OUR SERIES A YEAR IN REVIEW. May is always one of the busiest months for the aup community here in paris and there were numerous achievements we could have highlighted, not least the 206 undergraduates and 66 graduate students that walked the stage at Theatre Mogador for commencement this year. But for may 2018 we are taking you back to another occasion; the international words that kill conference hosted by the George and Irina Schaeffer Center For the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention that SOUGHT TO FOSTER INTELLECTUAL AND POLICY RESPONSES TO INJUSTICE, EXCLUSION and VIOLENCE.

From May 28 – 30, 2018, around 100 researchers and academics from across the globe gathered at The American University of Paris to delve into issues of hate speech and freedom, the production and circulation of lies and violence-inducing discourses. The diverse group of experts, specialists and innovative scholars engaged in panels covering fascinating and relevant subjects including the ability of silence to enable evil to proliferate, President Trump’s continued twisting of truth or outright lies, the manufacture of otherness and ways in which hate speech sits within the free speech movement.

It was a conference that offered resonant reflection on some of the most pressing cultural and political debates of 2018 so far. In a year rife with increasing toxicity in political discourses and of international social movements arguing for the equal importance of all voices, participants had the chance to engage in academic and impassioned debate with academics from diverse scholarly, personal and national backgrounds.

Arguably the most stirring moments came from the distinguished researchers who took the podium to offer keynote speeches on a wide-variety of topics that have played within and behind 2018’s headlines. Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, gave the first plenary speech on “How Fascism Works,” elaborating on his forthcoming book to point out how dominant groups use language and other means to paint themselves as ‘victims.’

Sarah Banet-Weiser, Professor and Director at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, led off day two with her highly anticipated keynote “Blood Coming out of Her Wherever: Networked Misogyny and the Body.” In another timely discussion Banet-Weiser painted a picture of how “anti-social sociability” plays a major role in the proliferation of “a level of sexual manipulation” wherein “violence might not only be tolerated, but expected, particularly in the context of popular feminist confidence where gender equality is assumed.” 

The award-winning Gérald Bronner, Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris-Diderot and member of the Academy of Technology (Académie des technologies) and the National Academy of Medicine (l’Académie nationale de médecine), captured the audience in his gripping keynote on “Croyances et narration: des liens complexes” (Beliefs and Narratives: Complex Relationships). Bronner argued for the consequences of a collective belief system and systematic errors in the reasoning that arises from supposed shared values and understandings.

As the last day of the conference arrived, AUP Professor Jayson Harsin offered his reflections on “Post-Truth Politics: The Longer (Historical) and Broader (Cultural) Theory” that led into the final keynote of the conference by Susan Benesch, founder and director of the Dangerous Speech Project, Faculty Associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of International Service at the American University in Washington DC. Wrapping up the proceedings with a talk echoing the event’s title “Which are the Words That Kill?”, Benesch spearheaded a discussion on what language actually engenders a violent reaction.

As participants filed out and the conference was tidied away the reverberations of the ideas and debates shared continued to resonate with us. If you missed the event, you can still watch all of the keynotes from the Conference on our Facebook page.

Find out more about the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention