BASS Politics and Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Language & Oppression

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHIL30811
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course examines the ways in which social inequality and oppression of social groups are deliberately or accidentally expressed, instigated, and enforced through our linguistic practices. How can words oppress people? Examining the answers to this simple question leads us into core issues in feminist philosophy and the philosophy of race while also appreciating the diverse range of topics within the philosophy of language. For example, we will evaluate the arguments of feminist philosophers who have analysed pornography as a form of speech act which subordinates women and simultaneously deprives them of the ability to speak out in protest.

We will examine philosophical theories about the nature of slurs: words which directly derogate and harm individuals by reference to race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. How can a philosophical account of language make sense of the notion that a word can have a harmful meaning? Less direct forms of oppression have been argued to be embedded in the way that gender is represented in ordinary language. Many feminist philosophers, for example, have argued that apparently gender-neutral expressions like “nurse”, “president”, etc., encode gendered information which reinforces and perpetuates gender inequality.

The course will also look at an area of overlap between linguistic and metaphysical issues by addressing the question of what it means to say that terms like race or gender are socially constructed entities or groups.


The unit aims to: equip students with the intellectual, textual, and philosophical resources to formulate, and argue for, views on a range of philosophical issues surrounding the ways in which language derogates, oppresses, and perpetuates social inequality.

Learning outcomes

Students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of key contemporary views in the philosophy of language about the social role played by language. Students should be able to apply theoretical frameworks from philosophy of language to applications of real world significance. Students should be able to present sophisticated and rigorous expositions of important theories and texts and develop their own arguments in response to them and to the issues raised.

Teaching and learning methods

There will be a mixture of lectures and tutorials.

Please note the information in scheduled activity hours are only a guidance and may change.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Group/team working
Oral communication
Problem solving
Written communication

Assessment methods

Written assignment 1


Written assignment 2






Feedback methods

The School of Social Sciences (SoSS) is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate fora is it possible for us to feed back on the student’s work. The main form of feedback on this course is feedback on your assessed essays, in the form of in-text comments and a general feedback report, both available through Blackboard. Feedback on the first essay will be available well before the deadline for the second essay, so that you have the opportunity to put any suggestions for improvement into practice.

We also draw your attention to the variety of generic forms of feedback available to you on this as on all SoSS courses. These include: meeting the lecturer during their office hours; e-mailing them questions; asking questions during and before/after lectures and tutorials; and obtaining feedback on your ideas from your peers and lecturer during tutorials.

Recommended reading

Sally McConnell-Ginet, “Language, Gender, and Sexuality”

Luvell Anderson, Sally Haslanger, and Rae Langton, “Language and Race”

Both in THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE, eds. Russell and Graff Fara, London: Routledge: 2015.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Mihaela Popa-Wyatt Unit coordinator

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