Get access

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.

Get access to the full text of this article