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In recent years, a progressive “cancel culture” in society, right-wing 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 as rhetorical dog whistles devoid of substantive meaning, 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. To understand this phenomenon, the opening section defines the core concept and theorizes that perceptions of this phenomenon are likely to depend upon how far individual values fit the dominant group culture. Within academia, scholars most likely to perceive “silencing” are mismatched or non-congruent cases, where they are “fish-out-of-water.” The next section describes how empirical survey evidence is used to test this prediction within the discipline of political science. Data are derived from a global survey, the World of Political Science, 2019, involving almost 2500 scholars studying or working in over 100 countries. The next section describes the results. The conclusion 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, right-wing 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 left-wing scholars who reported that a cancel culture had worsened. This contrast is consistent with Noelle-Neumann’s 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 71.1 (February 2023): 145-174.