Performative Force, Convention, and Discursive Injustice


  • Rebecca Kukla


I explore how gender can shape the pragmatics of speech. In some circumstances, when a woman deploys standard discursive conventions in order to produce a speech act with a specific performative force, her utterance can turn out, in virtue of its uptake, to have a quite different force—a less empowering force—than it would have if performed by a man. When members of a disadvantaged group face a systematic inability to produce a specific kind of speech act that they are entitled to perform—and in particular when their attempts result in their actually producing a different kind of speech act that further compromises their social position and agency—then they are victims of what I call discursive injustice. I examine three examples of discursive injustice. I contrast my account with Langton and Hornsby's account of illocutionary silencing. I argue that lack of complete control over the performative force of our speech acts is universal, and not a special marker of social disadvantage. However, women and other relatively disempowered speakers are sometimes subject to a distinctive distortion of the path from speaking to uptake, which undercuts their social agency in ways that track and enhance existing social disadvantages.