Cancel culture: ‘fish out of water’ academics feel it most

While right-leaning scholars are most likely to feel silenced in the West, in the developing world, left-wingers are more likely to self-censor

九月 29, 2021
A fisherman releasing a Sea Robin on the sand at the edge of the ocean to let it go back to sea.
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Right-wing academics are most likely to feel that they are victims of “cancel culture” in Western universities – but in the developing world, scholars on the left are more likely to feel silenced.

That’s according to Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire lecturer in comparative politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, who analysed global survey results and concluded that the left-wing skew in academia is not as strong as sometimes imagined and that faculty perceptions that their freedom of expression was being denied were shaped in part by the political environment they are in.

Her study of responses to the 2019 World of Political Science survey, covering almost 2,500 researchers in more than 100 countries, found that 58 per cent of respondents regarded themselves as being on the moderate left of the ideological spectrum. Only 14 per cent positioned themselves on the far left, while over a quarter – 27 per cent – described themselves as being moderately right-wing.

Overall, left-leaning scholars were more likely to feel that the quality of open debate in higher education had not changed in the past five years, while their right-wing colleagues were slightly more likely to perceive a decline.

Professor Norris identified 10 countries that had at least 70 responses and marked them on a “cancel culture index” based on answers to questions around open debate and academic freedom. Nine were “post-industrial” societies, with right-wing academics in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and the US perceiving the highest levels of cancel culture, and the most pronounced differences in responses between those on the right and the left.

However, in Nigeria, the only developing country with more than 70 respondents, left-wing scholars were more likely to perceive that they were victims of cancel culture than those on the right.

Professor Norris also combined the results of all the 78 developing countries in the sample – characterised by predominantly socially conservative cultures – and found that left-wing academics were more likely to feel that they needed to self-censor.

Professor Norris, who published her findings in Political Studies, said that the results indicated that “fish out of water” academics were most likely to perceive declining academic freedom.

“In the broadest sense, academia in the West is more liberal,” she said. “Liberals often say: ‘People can say what they like’, but it doesn’t alter the sense that if you were in the minority, you won’t speak up because you just don’t feel comfortable.

“This is the opposite in countries where traditional or religious identity is the norm and liberals feel uncomfortable speaking up, because they think it might cost them their jobs or promotions.”


Print headline: ‘Fish out of water’ scholars feel cancelled



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