Compulsory Civility and the Necessity of (Un)Civil Disobedience

By Judy Rohrer


This article explores “compulsory civility” as a contemporary tool used in the denial of access and belonging to the academy. Compulsory civility is explicitly written into personnel policy, tenure and promotion processes, and student codes of conduct. It is implicitly enforced in institutional culture by way of discourses of “collegiality,” “following proper channels,” “the way we do things,” and “being a team player.”

Compulsory civility can sometimes be difficult to identify and is often mobilized through gaslighting strategies that make us feel wrong, isolated, and alone. Imposter syndrome (tied to histories of exclusion), lack of labor consciousness, and academic (rugged) individualism predispose us to self-doubt and self-blame. The goal of this essay is to share a few different examples across constituencies so that we might be better equipped to identify, and resist, compulsory civility as it operates today. It suggests solidarity and (un)civil disobedience as modes of resistance.

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