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date: 27 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter draws on data from U.S. higher education to analyze the ways that the language used to describe sexual harassment secures its continued power. Focusing on two features viewed as definitional to sexual harassment, frequency and severity, the discussion analyzes three sets of online conversations about the disclosure of abuse in academia (a series of tweets, survey responses, and posts on a philosophy blog) from grammatical, pragmatic, and semiotic perspectives. Unlike most prior research, this chapter focuses on the language of victims rather than the intentions of harassers. The results suggest that speech act theory is unable to account fully for sexual harassment without accepting the relevance of perlocutionary effects. Using Gal and Irvine’s (2019) model of axes of differentiation, the chapter demonstrates how opposing discursive representations (of professors, sexual harassers, victims, and accusers) create a discursive space in which it becomes difficult for victims to report their harassers.

Keywords: axes of differentiation, disclosure, higher education, perlocutionary effects, semiotic analysis, sexual harassment, speech act theory, United States

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