Truth, Autonomy, and Speech

Feminist Theory and the First Amendment

317 pages

June, 2004

ISBN: 9780814793596



Also available in



Part of the Critical America series


Susan H. Williams is the Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law at Indiana University School of Law–Bloomington.

All books by Susan Williams

Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Titles 2005 Winner

Amidst the vast array of literature on the First Amendment, it is rare to hear a fresh voice speak about the First Amendment, but in Truth, Autonomy, and Speech, Susan H. Williams presents a strikingly original interpretation and defense of the First Amendment, written from a feminist perspective. Drawing on work from several disciplines—including law, political theory, philosophy, and anthropology—the book develops alternative accounts of truth and autonomy as the foundations for freedom of expression. Building on feminist understandings of self and the social world, Williams argues that both truth and autonomy are fundamentally relational.

With great clarity and insight, Williams demonstrates that speech is the means by which we create rather than discover truth and the primary mechanism through which we tell the stories that constitute our autonomy. She examines several controversial issues in the law of free speech—including campaign finance reform, the public forum doctrine, and symbolic speech—and concludes that the legal doctrine through which we interpret and apply the First Amendment should be organized to protect speech that serves the purposes of truth and autonomy.


  • "In this important book, Williams uses feminist theory not to challenge the idea of free speech but instead to reconstruct it. . . . What emerges from this well-written work of careful scholarship is an important contribution to the free speech literature."

    —Frederick Schauer, John F. Kennedy School of Government

  • "There just isn't any feminist treatment of speech or of the First Amendment that is this ambitious, either philosophically or legally. It is a remarkably original theoretical approach to and defense of the First Amendment.

    —Robin West, Georgetown University Law Center

  • "Susan Williams' searching and powerful attack on the traditional justifications for freedom of speech is itself an important contribution to the literature. But the reconstruction of those justifications is a tour de force. . . . Philosophical rigor, accessible writing, creativity, and good judgment all stand out in this terrific book on the First Amendment."

    —Steven Shiffrin, Cornell University Law School

  • "[William's] theory is elegant in its explication and provocative in its implications for government restrictions on speech ranging from the hateful, the symbolic, the politically subversive, and the costly. A must read."

    Choice, A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

  • "Meticulously argued and clearly organized, her account of free speech is both fundamentally feminist and optimistic."

    The Law and Politics Book Review