EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W081)

Linguistic and semiotic anthropology: contributions to the twenty-first century

Location Salle des thèses B15
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Steve Coleman (National University of Ireland) email
John Leavitt (Université de Montréal) email
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Short Abstract

Linguistic anthropology emphasizes fine-grained analysis of communicative events embedded in, and transformative of, sociocultural contexts. It has transcended epistemological uncertainties based on reified notions of "grammar" and "structure", seeing these instead as emergent in social life.

Long Abstract

This workshop explores the contributions which linguistic anthropology can make to the discipline as a whole. As an established subdiscipline, linguistic anthropology has made theoretical and methodological advances, particularly in response to the disquieting and well-publicised "epistemological crises" and critiques of ethnography in the 1980s. These critiques, over-emphasising the systemic nature of social and cultural processes, including models of culture-as-text and culture-as-grammar, claimed that anthropology had lost its epistemological object, and this loss was to have been replaced by an ethnographic self-consciousness or by an assimilation of what had been assumed to be distinctive cultural patterns to epiphenomena of world-wide economic and political processes. But the view of language, culture, and grammar which underlay these critiques was, ironically, never that of linguistic anthropology.

Rather than seeing culture and society in general as essentially and abstractly "language-like," linguistic anthropologists have, for example, focused on the gestural and objectual aspects of language insofar as it is involved in particular, concrete acts of expression, and the ways that these acts are constituted as sociocultural practice. Instead of saying that culture and society are texts or grammars, linguistic anthropologists have focused on the dynamic lives texts within cultures and societies.

These papers demonstrate that, while linguistic anthropology is a broad and multifaceted discipline, at its core it has focused on the traditional strength of ethnography — highly contextualized, fine-grained analysis of on-the-ground events— in a constant back-and-forth with more general theory.

Chair: Paul Friedrich
Discussant: Katherine E. Hoffman

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Environmental discourse as poetry: nature interpretation ritual in a Japanese Eco-Institute

Author: Yuichi Asai (Keio University)  email
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Short Abstract

From linguistic anthropological perspective, this paper analyses a nature interpretation activity, practiced in a Japanese Eco-Institute, as an interactional poetry / indexical icon, i.e., ritual, entextualizing mythical interactional text, which mediates humans (culture) and environment (nature).

Long Abstract

This paper analyses a nature interpretation activity, practiced in a Japanese Eco-Institute in Yamanashi prefecture, as an interactional poetry/ritual, i.e., indexical icon, entextualizing mythical interactional text, which mediates humans (culture) and environment (nature). Firstly, the research tries to reveal that the discourse of the nature interpretation activity constructs highly stylized 'interactional text' with distinct multi-layered poetic structures in the following three aspects: 1. the verbal expressions with the use of onomatopoeia by the nature interpreter to describe animals in forest, 2. the bodily movements by the nature interpreter to 'imitate' the animals, and 3. the entire discourse structure formed by a series of discursive segments, which consists of dialogues between the nature interpreter and the participants throughout the activity. Secondly, it further investigates the process in which the nature interpretation activity poetically (iconically) mediates/connects 'here and now' and 'there and then', that is, 'humans' and 'environment'. This process allows the nature interpretation activity to achieve three tasks: 1. metaphorically evoking the notion of 'mother nature' ('hahanaru daichi' in Japanese) for the participants, 2. vividly enacting the 'direct experience' with nature for the participants led by the nature interpreter as a 'shamanic' figure in the forest, and 3. 'ritual'-izing the entire interaction. Therefore, the paper endeavors to discursively integrate the two dichotomized disciplinary areas of 'environmental studies' and 'communication studies' based on linguistic anthropology, to enhance the understanding of the environment/nature as pragmatically/culturally constructed through sociocultural interaction, and to promote interdisciplinary approaches in communication studies.

A Sapir-Whorf renaissance? The return of ethnopoetics and linguistic relativity

Author: John Leavitt (Université de Montréal)  email
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Short Abstract

After decades of neglect, both the field of ethnopoetics and the principle of linguistic relativity are being revived in both North American and European anthropology, and largely in interdiscipinary contexts. This paper recalls their original formulations and subsequent decline and considers a few examples of their recent revival and transformation.

Long Abstract

After some decades of neglect, both the field of ethnopoetics and the principle of linguistic relativity are being revived, both in North American and in European anthropology, and largely in interdisciplinary contexts. This paper briefly recalls the original formulations of linguistic relativity in the 1920s and 30s and of ethnopoetics in the 1970s and 80sm and their subsequent decline. It then focuses on a few examples of revival and transformation: 1) of "practical linguistic relativity" in translation theory and practice, as well as in recent anthropological treatments of the implications of grammar; 2) of experimental linguistic relativity in the recent explosion of cross-linguistic studies in cognition; 3) of ethnopoetics in practice in much North American work and as an explicit named interdisciplinary school in Europe, involving not only anthropologists, but linguists, classical philologists, and ethnomusicologists.

We have never been public: communicative praxis and the illusions of political modernity

Author: Bernard Bate  email
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Short Abstract

The public sphere is a utopia of homogeneity. Its universality was always an illusion based upon limited social networks. Our myths of an ever-expanding public sphere mask how such networks are increasingly limited via increasing governmentality and ever more consolidated communication networks.

Long Abstract

Modernity is an illusion, some say. Our founding myths of political modernity, for instance, celebrated the principle of universal human rights at the very moment of excluding the vast majority of the human race as rights-bearing beings. A similar case can be made for such modern social imaginaries as the public sphere. The bourgeois public sphere was produced through the production and circulation of text artifacts among a limited social network of men who represented themselves as the universal human subject. It was a utopia of homogeneity, a homogeneity of time, space and social order that was built upon a series of exclusions based on gender, race, and class. The notion of the universalization of the public sphere was never more than the universalization of a normative model based upon particularistic positions within the society represented as neutral. All of these productions, however, were effects of new communicative modalities entering into and transforming fields of social praxis. Taking examples mostly from the production of vernacular oratorical models and their roles in the production of regional modernities in India, this paper will constitute a meditation on the communicative forms that produced the illusion of political modernity and the communicative forms that appear to be dismantling it again.

The ethnographic advantage and the analysis of news language

Author: Colleen Cotter (Queen Mary, University of London)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper, I argue for a linguistic-anthropological approach to the study of news language to provide fundamental insights into journalistic ways of being, the routines that underlie news practice, the influence of news-editorial decisions on the shape of news stories, and the relation of news values to community values.

Long Abstract

Using linguistic data and ethnographic insight accrued over two decades of newsroom and classroom work, I argue for a linguistic-anthropological approach to the study of news language. Emphasizing the "ethnographic advantage" for researchers provides fundamental insights into journalistic ways of being, making evident the routines that underlie news practice through a focus on news process and production, the influence of news-editorial decisions on the shape of news stories, and the relation of news values to community values. A good deal of social science research devoted to the news media fails to consider how communication patterns derive from the needs or values of a particular community (Cotter 2010). But study of the community itself may reveal a better sense of what their message, behaviors, and actions mean. An ethnographic and interactional approach looks to the community and the context it inhabits: how the community itself regards its relation to language, what counts as viable text or talk, the roles and behaviors of the participants, what constitutes communicative competence. It is a foundation for critical approaches. The purpose is a greater understanding of a community (speech community, micro-community, group of people, or social collective) and its particular "ways of speaking" (Sherzer and Darnell 1972, Hymes 1974 and 1984, Heath 1983, Gumperz and Hymes 1964, 1972). At a time of uncertainty within the profession, and disquiet about what constitutes journalism, a focus on both linguistic meaning and social activity is paramount. Data from newsrooms in the US, UK, and Ireland will be presented.

Producing populist politics: a linguistic anthropological analysis of Glenn Beck

Author: Anthony Kelly (LSE)  email
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Short Abstract

Media commentators in the U.S. constitute an important parasocial nexus in a multiplex of interconnections between corporate media institutions and their audiences. This paper proposes a linguistic anthropological analysis of Glenn Beck that situates his performances within wider ecologies of knowledge.

Long Abstract

Media commentators in the contemporary United States of America constitute an important parasocial nexus in a multiplex of interconnections between corporate media institutions and their audiences. As key sources of facts unevenly distributed along contested vectors of valid and trusted knowledge, they are imbued with the capacity to serve both as prominent animators of public culture and potent loci of political power.

Glenn Beck is a notable example of the transformative influence of media commentary, having come to prominence over the last decade as a conservative talk radio and television host. Through his production company, Mercury Radio Arts, Beck has emerged as the focal figure in an expanding and evolving mass media production enterprise, entailing internet, radio, books, magazines, speaking tours, and political rallies.

Self-styled as the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment, Beck narrates a universe in which apocalypses political, social, and economic are foretold as a matter of course. As the bearer of untold and hidden eschatological truths, this very act of narration is posited as a threat to the speaker, positioning Beck and his audience within a moral order of ideological alignment.

Whilst mass media representations make models of personhood available to many people at once, they are also produced and recycled in other moments, "shadow conversations" that stretch out representation across complex participation frameworks. This paper proposes a linguistic anthropological analysis of Glenn Beck that situates his performances within wider ecologies of knowledge. It will, in that respect, explore the erasure of participant roles fundamental to his constitution as a speaking subject embodying intentionality.

Addressing uncertainties and doubts about the viability of local linguistic and cultural life in Europe: contributions of linguistic anthropology

Author: Steve Coleman (National University of Ireland)  email
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Short Abstract

Uncertainties and doubts about local language and culture within Europe reveal a need to question our assumptions about what language actually is. Investigating the ways that language functions in social life, linguistic anthropology offers new insights and hopes for strengthening local community.

Long Abstract

Migration and European integration have called into question the sustainability of local social life and cultural identities. This paper argues that uncertainties and doubts about the situation of languages within wider European and global publics are often inspired by understandings and language ideologies which are at odds with the ways that language actually functions in social life. Discourses of "endangerment" and "(un-)sustainability" as well as policies they inspire, need to be based on better understandings of how language, as an intertwined set of cultural and semiotic systems, functions in society. The situation of Irish exemplifies what can happen when policies and public discourse are based on unthinking and reductionistic understandings of language: the grounding of language within actual social life is lost to view. A linguistic anthropological approach brings to light new uncertainties, but also new understandings of where the life and health of language and culture reside.

A "translinguistic" approach to register under conditions of "superdiversity:" drops of Arabic in an Arabic learner variety

Author: Cécile Evers (University of Pennsylvania)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper addresses how the analytical tool of “register” (Agha, 2007) can be leveraged to understand “translingual” and syncretic language phenomena. Using ethnographic data from a Sunni mosque in the Northeastern U.S., I illustrate how mixed codes are endogenized to particular speaker identities.

Long Abstract

Translinguistic approaches (Hill & Hill, 1986; Meeuwis & Blommaert, 1998; Urciuoli, 1996) have traced the systematicity of syncretic language use to a process whereby ongoing reflexive activities link mixed codes to particular speaker identities. I posit that conditions of "superdiversity" in Europe (Blommaert, 2010) as well as in the US, as immigration increases, proliferate opportunities for interlocutors to use languages "punctually" and yet to great pragmatic profit. Set among members of a Sunni mosque in a Northeastern American city, this paper examines the formation of a multilingual prestige register and its negotiation by newer members (with different linguistic repertoires). This ritual space was, until recently, stratified between first-generation Arabs socialized into Standard Arabic and those without native access to varieties of Arabic. Increases in the membership of non-native learners of Arabic—some of whom are now enjoying greater mobility to study in the Arab world, others who experience Standard and varietal Arabic locally—have created a radial distribution of competence in this prestige register across the community. More to less "-onomic" (Silverstein, 2006) use of the register's forms are observable along various dimensions of language: most notably, the quantity and type of Arabic used. Even as competence in the prestige register mediates an interactional hierarchy, shifting demographics invite the register's partially incongruent use by Arabic learners. A creative outcome has been widespread misrecognition of the register's forms; knowingly or unknowingly, the mosque's novices are leading a process of register reanalysis that projects itself in fractal iterations through the ranks.

Semiotic ideologies of race: racial profiling, retroduction, and 'the fact of blackness'

Author: Veerendra Lele (Denison University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the semiotic ideologies of race, focusing on the role of iconicity and retroductive logic in ‘racial profiling’. This paper also addresses the indexical and symbolic aspects of ‘race’, what Frantz Fanon called ‘The Fact of Blackness’.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the semiotic ideologies of race, and the role of iconicity, indexicality, and symbolic relations in racial reckoning. Race can be described as a hierarchical taxonomy of biophysical metaphors representing relative social power. And iconicity is one of the main semiotic forms through which the 'logic' of race works. And in Peircean semiotic terms, metaphors are 'iconic Thirds'. While much attention has been given to understanding how race operates as a discursive form through which power is exercised, less analysis has been done on the 'logic' of racial reckoning, and more specifically, on the semiosis of race. How do semiotic ideologies of race reproduce social hierarchies and even persistent social inequalities? This paper examines one particular practice - 'racial profiling' - and how in a contemporary context it contributes to the ideological aspects and sociocultural effects of race. The paper also examines the inferential form of logic called 'retroduction' (or 'abduction'), and how this, along with misapplications of conditional probabilities and the ground of iconicity, contributes to the practice of racial profiling. And this paper takes up the indexical and symbolic aspects of 'race' - what Frantz Fanon called 'The Fact of Blackness'.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.