University of Sussex
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Colonial monuments as slurring speech acts

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-10, 00:16 authored by Arianne ShahvisiArianne Shahvisi
In recent years, the removal of monuments which glorify historical figures associated with racism and colonialism has become one of the most visible and contested forms of decolonisation. Yet many have objected that there is educational value in leaving such monuments standing. In this paper, I argue that public monuments can be understood as speech acts which communicate messages to those who live among them. Some of those speech acts derogate particular social groups, contributing to their marginalisation in much the way that slurs do. Comparing derogating monuments to slurs is also productive in suggesting morally appropriate responses to their harms. I explore the limits of the use-mention distinction in relation to the harmfulness of slurs and apply this to show that attempting to recontextualise harmful monuments in situ—by, for example, changing the text on an accompanying plaque in order to retain the monument for its educational value—will not solve the problem in most cases. I conclude that the removal of slurring monuments, or their relocation to museum exhibitions dedicated to presenting a more critical view of history, is a more robust and reliable way of protecting against harm, and that this consideration outweighs any purported educational value in leaving monuments in place.


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Journal of Philosophy of Education





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  • Clinical and Experimental Medicine Publications

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