the social man’s world
By Emily Griffith
Content warning: explicit descriptions of sexual assault
John Searle is a highly influential philosopher of language and his most well-known work, which is widely read due to his powerful position, is on speech act theory and intentionality. In his writing behaviour he highlights how power dynamics are background conditions, such as class, racism and patriarchy, all which Searle benefits from in an elitist, white, and male dominated field. A speaker exercises their power over another through a variety of speech acts. This is highlighted by how Searle interacted with his research assistant and former student, Joanna Ong; he would watch pornography in front of her, make sexist comments, and when she turned him down after he groped her, he docked her pay and eventually fired her.
Ong went to Searle’s colleagues to report on his behaviour and they did nothing, instead opting to protect his position and status. Ong was also not the first young woman Searle sexually assaulted, he would particularly target international students and women of colour. University of California (UC), Berkeley, continued to protect him from these reports for years. Since Ong’s lawsuit in March 2017, more women came out about Searle’s sexually inappropriate behaviour and the UC Berkeley’s failure to elevate allegations, the earliest being dated at 2004.
The blackout poetry I have put together are constructed from pages in Searle’s book Making the Social World which was published in 2010. The purpose is firstly to omit his words, as he should not have been in a position to write them in the first place, when he was using that very position to abuse women, and secondly to turn them into something meaningful on the topic of sexual assault. As someone who would potentially like to work in this area of academia, it terrifies me how men such as Searle abuse their position over women, and yet continue to be protected and influential writers on conduct that they themselves are intentional perpetuators of.