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This book identifies how different states, with different traditions and different political, economic, and social realities, conceptualize and practice the role of speech and information in society. How, the authors ask, have countries drawn upon the ideas of philosophers, religious leaders, and politicians who have ruminated on questions of speech, government, order, and freedom, and how have states applied the lessons learnt to governance? This question provides the book’s primary objective: to identify the processes or combination of ideas concerning speech and information that are articulated as governments seek to maintain or extend power, with particular attention paid to applications in the digital age. These essays underscore how difficult and delicate a process it is to establish universal values and distinguish among normative approaches. This focus on the specificities and peculiarities of each state aids a secondary objective: by focusing on political ideologies, the philosophical or religious underpinnings of communal approaches to the regulation of speech, we seek to add context to global debates that are often characterized by polarizing dichotomies. The essays included in this volume are, by design, eclectic, with authors bringing different ways of thinking, which draw on their varying disciplinary, epistemological, and professional backgrounds. Intended to be a truly polyphonic book, this approach has been taken to enrich the vocabulary of global discussion and to both unpack the prevailing “normative” Internet and free-expression debate and to deepen analyses in very different local or national contexts as well as on a global level. This requires a conversation across disciplines and between scholars of law, philosophy, anthropology, communications, politics, and international relations. In part, this is also an exercise in archaeology: to understand the present one must also look backwards and ask how various societies evolved in their approaches to the role of speech and of the press. Those who have set foundational principles for speech and those who have succeeded in realizing them have variously described the importance of creating cohesion, commanding loyalty, and maintaining peace for nation building while, in some cases, acknowledging the role and values of free expression in underwriting creativity or improving governance. This collection of essays roots itself in these historically fraught debates seeing the legacies and continued influence of prominent thinkers, philosophical or religious approaches, and moments in disparate societies from Confucius and Gandhi to the role of Islamic law.

Original publication





Book title

Speech and Society in Turbulent Times: Freedom of Expression in Comparative Perspective

Publication Date



1 - 16