Free speech or obedient speech? Revisiting liberal speech norms in ‘closed contexts’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Qualitative researchers can usually discern the difference between obedient speech and fearless, critical, or oppositional speech. Yet the context in which speech acts are performed is necessarily uneven, such that the same people who might speak freely in one place are often quick to engage in obedient speech in another. Speech acts also depend on the speaker's positionality, meaning that some speakers may have the privilege to act as ‘truth-tellers’ and speak freely, whereas the positionality of others does not enable this. This paper considers how these contextual factors can be overlooked when liberal speech norms are taken for granted. Engaging with Michel Foucault's writing on parrhesia, I highlight the issues of positionality and context in defining how socio-political borders are drawn around free (‘fearless’) speech as opposed to obedient (‘performative’) speech. I show how parrhesia opens up key questions for qualitative research about the politicisation of free versus obedient speech through space and time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-495
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Foucault
  • authoritarianism
  • liberalism
  • parrhesia
  • qualitative methods
  • speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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