The legal consciousness of ordinary citizens concerning offensive public speech is a phenomenon whose legal status has been vigorously debated, but which has received little empirical analysis. Drawing on observations in public spaces in three northern California communities and in-depth interviews with 100 subjects recruited from these public locations, I analyze variation across race and gender groups in experiences with offensive public speech and attitudes about how such speech should be dealt with by law. Among these respondents, white women and people of color are far more likely than white men to report being the targets of offensive public speech. However, white women and people of color are not significantly more likely than white men to favor its legal regulation. Respondents generally oppose the legal regulation of offensive public speech, but they employ different discourses to explain why. Subjects' own words suggest four relatively distinct paradigms that emphasize the First Amendment, autonomy, impracticality, and distrust of authority. Members of different racial and gender groups tend to use different discourses. These differences suggest that the legal consciousness of ordinary citizens is not a unitary phenomenon, but must be situated in relation to particular types of laws, particular social hierarchies, and the experiences of different groups with the law.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science