Language and Harm

Words are important. Much more than a neutral description, the words we use have the power to define how we see the world and the social groups within it. While there are many public debates about linguistic issues (about gender representation in writing, for example, or who has the right to use certain words), these debates tend to be formulated in fairly binary terms, centered on a debate around “political correctness”, and to ignore the profound capacity of language to shape beliefs and social attitudes. It is therefore necessary to create a public space for a nuanced discussion of the balance between freedom of expression and respect for others, and the role that language plays in the search for social justice. The CSLS aims to create such a space in the context of a public event on the theme “Language and Harm”. Bringing together academics, policymakers and local activists, the event seeks to discuss current theories of hate speech and other forms of harmful language in a way that is clear and accessible, and to jumpstart a conversation on this topic in the Swiss context.