Call for Papers

Political Discourse and the Limits of the Sayable How to Measure Discursive Boundaries and their Change?

Deadline: April 15th, 2024

Negotiations over the boundaries of the sayable have become a much-discussed topic in recent years, not least in light of the rise of the far right. For decades, far-right actors have strategically sought to normalize authoritarian and nationalist positions and violated speech ›taboos‹ to gain attention. At the same time, progressive social movements have successfully campaigned for greater sensitivity to exclusionary and discriminatory speech. The heightened sensitivity resulting from these successes is in turn problematized as a restriction on the freedom of expression – among others by the far right. These disputes over the normative limits of what can and should be said in public have been accompanied by contradictory claims about the direction in which boundaries are shifting. Are they ever expanding or ever contracting, are they moving ›to the right‹ or ›to the left‹? Since such supposed shifts have strong implications for the quality of democracy, their empirical study is imperative.

However, struggles over the limits of speech in political discourse are complex processes making their empirical study methodologically challenging. This is even more true for long-term changes and shifting boundaries. Discourse theory and discourse analysis offer useful starting points, since these approaches are designed to explore how specific spaces of speech and knowledge emerge and change. But while the normative boundaries of the sayable are frequently discussed in the study of discourse, their changes are rarely in the focus of empirical attention. Only few works have systematically conceptualized and operationalized the process of how discursive boundaries change over time. Further elaboration based on these conceptualizations is needed.

In order to pursue the discussion on how to conceptualize, operationalize, and measure the normative limits of speech and their change over time further, the workshop will bring together scholars from different disciplines and methodological approaches. The workshop is part of a research project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), in which we investigate whether and how the limits of the sayable have shifted in the German public sphere over the past decades.

With Ruth Wodak and Michał Krzyżanowski, two of the leading researchers in the field will participate in the workshop. With this call, we search for further panelists to present their empirical studies and their methodological reflections on researching shifting boundaries of the sayable.

The questions include (but are not limited to):

  • How can we conceptualize, operationalize, and measure the ›limits of the sayable‹?
  • How can we conceptualize, operationalize, and measure long-term ›discursive shifts‹, i.e. the changes of these boundaries over longer timeframes such as decades?
  • What is ›normalization‹, how can it be conceptualized, operationalized, and measured?
  • How can changes in political discourse be measured?
  • What data and methods of analysis can be used to measure discursive shifts of the sayable?
  • In which social spheres do we empirically observe struggles over the limits of speech?
  • Who are the social actors who seek to shift the boundaries of the sayable, and what discursive strategies do they employ?


We kindly invite you to submit your abstract of 200-300 words to hannah.hecker(at) by April 15, 2024. Notice of acceptance will be sent out by April 30, 2024. Accepted contributors will be asked to submit their full papers or presentations by June 7, 2024. We will be able to pay for accommodation and travel expenses for presenters (within the legal framework for travel expenses, 2nd class rail travel with early booking and Bahncard if possible).

For further information and inquiries, please Hannah.hecker(at), floris.biskamp(at), or julia.glathe(at) For more information about the research project ›The negotiation of the limits of the sayable in political discourses‹, see here.