Practices of Slur Use

In: Grazer Philosophische Studien
Leopold Hess University of Warsaw,

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Given the apparent nondisplaceability and noncancellability of the derogatory content of slurs, it may appear puzzling that non-derogatory uses of slurs exist. Moreover, these uses seem to be in general available only to in-group speakers, thereby exhibiting a peculiar kind of context-sensitivity. In this paper the author argues that to understand non-derogatory uses we should consider slurs in terms of the kind of social practice their uses instantiate. A suitable theory of social practices has been proposed by McMillan. In typical (derogatory) uses the practice is one of bigotry and discrimination. Non-derogatory uses are only possible to the extent that they consitute acts of an alternative, non-derogatory practice. In the core cases it must be a subversive practice of satire or reappropriation. The social identity of speakers is not an ultimately decisive factor (in-group uses may still be derogatory) but it is an important constitutive condition: most non-derogatory practices of slur-use can only be performed by a member of the target group.

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