Excerpt: If you participate in contemporary political discourse, you’re bound to come across one of the most widespread and controversial phrases of the day: “cancel culture.” Part of its popularity stems from its apparent versatility. That is, people can use the term for just about anything that particularly upsets them. The inevitable consequence of using a term for everything is that it ends up meaning nothing.
Cancel culture individualizes a much larger, systemic issue. The act of “canceling” is generally something that is undertaken against an individual person, while a suppressive academic culture is something different. If scholars fear that they will be targeted for publicly pursuing an idea, either through policy or through social sanction, most won’t speak up and get “canceled.” Rather, social coercion will make them either stop pursuing controversial topics or take their work underground, resulting in a loss of knowledge for society.