In recent years, a progressive ‘cancel culture’ in society, rightwing politicians and commentators claim, has silenced alternative perspectives, ostracized contrarians, and eviscerated robust intellectual debate, with college campuses at the vanguard of this development. These arguments can be dismissed by liberals as rhetoric far removed from reality, myths designed to fire up the MAGA faithful, outrage progressives, and distract from urgent real-world problems. Given heated contention, however, something more fundamental may be at work. If silencing is indeed a real social phenomenon, the puzzle becomes how to solve a classic Sherlockian whodunnit to prove or disprove the existence of the ‘dog which didn’t bark’. To understand this phenomenon, Part I theorizes that perceptions of a ‘cancel culture’ are likely to depend upon how far individual values fit the dominant group. Within academia, scholars most likely to perceive ‘silencing’ are mismatched or non-congruent cases, where they are ‘fish-out-of-water’. Part II describes the empirical survey evidence used to test congruence theory within the discipline of political science. Data is derived from a global survey, the World of Political Science, 2019, involving almost 2,500 scholars studying or working in over 100 countries. Part III describes the results. Part IV summarizes the key findings and considers their broader implications. Overall, the evidence confirms the ‘fish-out-of-water’ congruence thesis. As predicted, in post-industrial societies, characterized by predominately liberal social cultures, like the US, Sweden, and UK, rightwing scholars were most likely to perceive that they faced an increasingly chilly climate. By contrast, in developing societies characterized by more traditional moral cultures, like Nigeria, it was leftwing scholars who reported that a cancel culture had worsened. This contrast is consistent with Noelle-Neumann’s (1974) spiral of silence thesis, where mainstream values in any group gradually flourish to become the predominant culture, while, due to social pressures, dissenting minority voices become muted. The ratchet effect eventually muffles contrarians. The evidence suggests that the cancel culture is not simply a rhetorical myth; scholars may be less willing to speak up to defend their moral beliefs if they believe that their views are not widely shared by colleagues or the wider society to which they belong.
Norris, Pippa. "Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?" Political Studies (2021).