III. COMMUNAL SPEECH

I have argued thus far that organizations can have various derivative First Amendment rights, but no original rights to self-expression. There is a perennial gap between organizational speech on the one hand and the source of its expressive value on the other. Even in the case of an expressive organization, authority regarding the expression remains vested in the individual members: their disparate communicative intentions provide the measure of adequacy for the collectivity’s performance. Communal speech is fundamentally different. Since communal communication expresses an aspect of the members’ identity defined by their collective affiliation, the distinction between collective speech and individual selfexpression is effaced.

As we have seen, speech can be ascribed to organizations either when it is the undifferentiated product of organizational decision-making processes, or as the pronouncement of specific position-holders. The case of communities is parallel. Starting with position-holders, when we discussed organizational speech, we saw that the individual speaker, as illustrated by the telephone operator’s profession of gratitude on the company’s behalf, engages in detached speech, which involves no self-expression, nor does it implicate the individual speaker’s autonomy. The opposite is the case in the communal context. Recall the contrasting example, given in Chapter 1, of a parent who thanks a stranger for helping a child cross the street.17 Unlike the operator, the parent does not only avow gratitude but expresses it, since being, say, a father is simply the aspect of one’s personal identity that pertains to the situation at hand. But whereas the gratitude the father expresses is personal, it is not his alone. Expressing gratitude as a parent in the imagined circumstances involves a judgment that what the stranger did is in the child’s interest, and so advances one of the family’s causes or missions. It is therefore to give expression to an attitude that is appropriately taken to be held by other family members as well. In this case, “I am grateful” is ipso facto said on the family’s behalf and is the equivalent of “we are grateful.”

To be sure, this unity of judgment and of attitude may not hold. For example, the other parent, the mother in this case, may view the stranger’s act as a transgression. Had she been on the scene, she would not have thanked the stranger but would have chastised him, and in doing so, she too would have purported to convey the family’s attitude in this matter. Even so, this possibility does not by itself vitiate the conception of communal speech I advocate. What each parent says purports to reflect the family’s attitudes because of a shared commitment to the child’s welfare. The difference between the parents’ views reflects conflicting assessments of what under the circumstances would have been in the child’s interest, thus affirming that the child’s welfare sets the proper standard for assessing the stranger’s behavior. Given this agreement, and a sufficient level of cohesiveness and trust, each parent may be authorized to speak on the family’s behalf, even if what each might have said on a given occasion would have been different. Though the family be in this scenario of two minds, it still speaks with one voice. And this does not distinguish it from the case of an individual speaker. The norm of sincerity that applies to the individual speaker does not range over all the thoughts that occur to her. Speech, that is the public articulation of a thought, is a canonical way of owning up to the thought, taking responsibility for it, and so constituting it as one’s own. To speak is in this sense to exercise with regard to a thought one’s first-person authority.18 The picture in the case of communal speech is similar. Both parents are authorized to speak on the family’s behalf, and what they each say in their parental capacity has each other’s implicit backing and is the articulation of a content to which they both own up and for which they take joint responsibility.

The other way of ascribing speech to a collectivity views its communications as the composite product of an undifferentiated, collective activity. Here, too, the communal picture differs significantly from the organizational. I can best make the point with the help of a familiar analogy: the orchestra or the choir. Like sports teams, these ensembles serve as stock examples for accounts of collective action. My present interest in them somewhat shifts the focus toward collective meaning.[1] Each player’s or singer’s contribution is in itself fragmentary and often musically (or in the case of the choir also linguistically) unintelligible; meaning here resides in the music (or text) that is collectively produced. The expressive value of these performances does not accordingly lie in the individual contributions taken separately. Rather, the medium of self-expression in these cases is the collective production as a whole. And yet this “global” production is a vehicle for the self-expression of each of the players and singers as well/

It will be useful to contrast this conception of communal speech with communications by expressive organizations that in some ways resemble the communal case. One question that arises with regard to all collective speech, organizational as well as communal, is which utterances (statements, documents, etc.) count as the collectivity’s and are properly ascribed to it. But in the case of expressive organizations, a second question arises: how do the organization’s communications relate to the original individual speakers whose views these communications purport to represent? This second question has no equivalent in the communal case. Once the criteria for ascribing speech to a community are satisfied, there is no further question regarding the relation between this communal speech on the one hand and the members’ self-expression on the other; speech properly ascribed to the community is ipso facto also properly ascribed to each of the members in their collective capacity, that is qua community members.

  • [1] In terms of the ordinary use of “community,” the family and the orchestra (or choir) areat most proto- or quasi-communities. But their relative simplicity makes them suitable heuristics for teasing out with some clarity important characteristics of what I call communalspeech that are instantiated in many other social formations to which the label community ismore aptly applied. f It is noteworthy that one need not even produce any audible segment of the music in orderto be a participant in the communal expression: the person who is usually thought to be themost prominent contributor, the conductor, does not.
 
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