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Lynne Tirrell: March 2014

posted Mar 23, 2014, 9:23 AM by Peggy DesAutels   [ updated Mar 23, 2014, 10:14 AM ]

Lynne Tirrell
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Lynne Tirrell is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she also teaches in Women’s Studies. She earned her BA from the University of Wisconsin, writing a senior thesis on rape, advised by Claudia Card. Tirrell earned her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, writing her dissertation on metaphor, under the direction of Bob Brandom. Her first job was at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was tenured in 1994. Now at U Mass Boston for twenty years, she is happy to be in a collegial and progressive department within an extremely diverse university where the students bring the world into the classroom every day. Starting in July 2014, Lynne Tirrell will begin a three-year term as chair of the APA Committee on Public Philosophy.

Lynne Tirrell’s articles, on metaphor, hate speech, pornography, genocide, the politics of discourse, feminist theory, storytelling, and aesthetics, have appeared in numerous journals, including The Journal of Philosophy, Noûs, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and Hypatia, as well as in edited collections.

In the 1990’s Professor Tirrell published several papers on hate speech, with a focus on understanding the inferential power of derogatory terms rather than the performative of hurling an epithet. She focused on racist and sexist terms common in the USA. Lynne Tirrell’s work uses inferential role semantics to understand how discursive practices can enhance justice or facilitate injustice, with special attention to oppressive social practices. Starting in 2004, her work on derogatory terms took her beyond the US, to Rwanda. Her recent papers study changing discursive practices, particularly the increased use of derogatory terms (now widely called ‘slurs’ by U.S. philosophers), in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the prohibitions on such language in Rwanda’s recovery. This study has led to research trips to Rwanda, where she has met with people working on changing language practice and policy, as well as with people working to heal the country in the aftermath of devastating and violent division. It has also taken her to Tanzania, where she was invited into fascinating discussions with appeals prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She is still studying the case materials they provided, particularly cases in which speech was counted as action.

Professor Tirrell’s “Genocidal Language Games”(2012), uses inferential role semantics and speech act theory to analyze the power of linguistic practices in shaping social conditions that make genocide possible. Her “Apologizing for Atrocity: Rwanda and Recognition” (2013) examines the moral importance of recognition for survivors, and offers an analysis of US President Clinton’s apology to the people of Rwanda for his role in the international abandonment of Rwanda in 1994. Professor Tirrell holds that examining apology in the context of grave wrongs helps highlight both the positive reparative power as well as the limits of speech as a response to moral injury. She has written on transitional justice in Rwanda, epistemic issues in perpetrator culpability, and is working on ICTR cases that used speech—discursive action—to prove genocide commission (not just incitement). She is grateful to the many Rwandans who have been her teachers and shared their knowledge, resources (especially hard-to-find texts), and challenging experiences as well as triumphs. Looking back, she never anticipated that writing a dissertation using inferential role theory to explain metaphorical interpretation would lead her to a tiny country in Africa where real life inferential practices turned deadly and taught her why philosophy—with an emphasis on social practices—matters so much.

Professor Tirrell is also happily working on a collaborative project with her close friend Alisa L. Carse (Georgetown) on issues surrounding forgiveness and reconciliation. Their paper “Forgiving Grave Wrongs” (2010) focuses on challenges in forgiving world-shattering wrongs, like rape and genocide, and introduces the concept of emergent forgiveness, a concept they are continuing to develop in a longer project. They have also presented several papers on reconciliation.
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