I am a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. I specialize in social and political issues in the philosophy of language. My research tries to understand the ways that language can be a tool of both oppression and resistance. In my work on on dog whistles, coded speech, propaganda, reclaimed slurs, and subversive speech, I trace how speakers are constrained yet also empowered by their communities' practices. Only by identifying the sociopolitical structures and histories of our speech practices, I argue, can we make sense of what we can do with our words—and why.
More recently, I'm also a (very) amateur potter—perhaps one of the few human practices older than philosophy.
You can find my CV here.
No one denies that language is a social practice, but most analytic philosophy of language abstracts away from the sociopolitical aspects of language, or goes even further to treat language primarily as an abstract, formal entity. But actual utterances are issued by and to agents with particular social positions, in a particular time and place, against a personal, historical, and institutional background. So, what happens if we prioritize the social, political, practical elements of linguistic communication?
I argue that this shift in focus yields productive challenges for our theories and assumptions about meaning. But focusing on linguistic communities and their practices is also crucial for explaining the normative dimension of our linguistic agency. If we think solely in terms of individual utterances or individual speakers' attitudes or intentions, we won't be able to make sense of complicity, or explain what's wrong with dog-whistling or propaganda, or capture the nuances of what speakers do, when they set out to reclaim a slur.
Dog whistles, propaganda, and reclaimed slurs are useful test cases for the practice-focused approach, because they don't fit the standard mold of true, relevant assertions made by one cooperative, rational speaker to one cooperative, rational hearer. My work thus seeks to understand these phenomena in their own right, and to identify what these phenomena can teach us about language more broadly.
The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door — June 11, 1963
While physically preventing the University of Alabama's first-ever Black students from entering a university building, Alabama Governor George Wallace declaims on national TV against violations of "states' rights."
Photo by Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine.
Queer Nation activists march in New York City — 1990
At a time when "queer" is used almost exclusively as a homophobic slur, members of Queer Nation set out to reclaim the term, subversively using "queer" at Gay Pride events and during protests and demonstrations.
Photo by Ellen Neipris.
"Dog Whistles, Covertly Coded Speech, and the Practices that Enable Them," Synthese 200 (2022).
Penultimate draft available here.
Abstract: Dog whistling—speech that seems ordinary but sends a hidden, often derogatory message to a subset of the audience—is troubling not just for our political ideals, but also for our theories of communication. On the one hand, it seems possible to dog whistle unintentionally, merely by uttering certain expressions. On the other hand, the intention is typically assumed or even inferred from the act, and perhaps for good reason, for dog whistles seem misleading by design, not just by chance. In this paper, I argue that, to understand when and why it’s possible to dog-whistle unintentionally (and indeed, intentionally), we’ll need to recognize the structure of our linguistic practices. For dog whistles and for covertly coded speech more generally, this structure is a pair of practices, one shared by all competent speakers and the other known only to some, but deployable in the same contexts. In trying to identify these enabling conditions, we’ll discover what existing theories of communicated content overlook by focusing on particular utterances in isolation, or on individual speakers’ mental states. The remedy, I argue, lies in attending to the ways in which what is said is shaped by the temporally extended, socio-politically structured linguistic practices that utterances instantiate.
“Propaganda” (with Jason Stanley) in The Routledge Handbook of Social and Political Philosophy of Language, ed. Justin Khoo and Rachel Sterken (Routledge, 2021), 125–46.
Penultimate draft available here.
Abstract: This chapter provides a high-level introduction to the topic of propaganda. We survey a number of the most influential accounts of propaganda, from the earliest institutional studies in the 1920s to contemporary academic work. We propose that these accounts, as well as the various examples of propaganda which we discuss, all converge around a key feature: persuasion which bypasses audiences’ rational faculties. In practice, propaganda can take different forms, serve various interests, and produce a variety of effects. Propaganda can aim to affect not only audiences’ beliefs and attitudes, but also their emotions and moods, and in turn how audiences subsequently reason or act. While propaganda is often thought of as false or misinformation, it can instead involve framing effects (“The war on drugs”), covert messaging (“There are Muslims among us”), emotionally charged slogans (“Make America Great Again”), or myths (“The American dream”). These forms of propaganda mislead audiences, not by introducing false information, but by making some beliefs and values, rather than others, salient. In fact, propaganda can even employ straightforwardly true claims (again, as in “There are Muslims among us”) and seemingly objective bureaucratic reports (“Crime has risen 4.2%”). To understand how these and other mechanisms enable propaganda to persuade by arational means, further study is needed. To that end, throughout the chapter we identify a number of places where the study of meaning and communication can help elucidate propaganda, as well as the places where propaganda issues challenges for the study of meaning.
Fall 2022: Introduction to Political Philosophy
Fall 2021: Philosophy of Race and Gender (upper division)
Summer 2021: Contemporary Moral Problems
Summer 2020: Philosophy of Law (upper division)
Fall 2019: Problems of Knowledge and Valuation (Plan II Honors Program)
Spring 2019: Philosophy and Literature
Fall 2018: Introduction to Philosophy
Summer 2018: Knowledge and Reality
Spring 2018: Introduction to Logic
Fall 2017: Medicine, Ethics, and Society (upper division)
Spring 2017: Problems of Knowledge and Valuation (Plan II Honors Program)
Fall 2016: Mind and Body
Department of Philosophy
The University of Texas at Austin
2210 Speedway, Stop C3500
Austin, TX 78712-1737