Magnus Pharao Hansen’s “Nahuatl Nation: Language Revitalization and Indigenous Resurgence in 21st Century Mexico”

Page 99 of my dissertation “Nahuatl Nation” does present a key aspect of the argument, namely the proposition that the Mexican state has a specific interest in playing a key role in the revitalization of its indigenous languages. By centralizing the responsibility for language maintenance and development within the state, the state is able to legitimize itself as a legitimate proprietor of indigenous semiotic resources, which it in turn uses to brand the Mexican Nation within the international market economy. The page however is not representative of the dissertation as a whole because it doesn’t include the central piece of the argument. The main argument is that indigenous languages, such as the Nahuatl language that is the focus of the dissertation, are important to their speakers, not only for the way that they enable speakers to inhabit the “indigenous slot”, or insert themselves into the Mexican national narrative. I argue that indigenous languages are primarily meaningful to their speakers and speech communities because they play a significant role in the subjective, intersubjective and social lives of speakers and in the way local indigenous communities cohere and conceptualize themselves as distinct from the national community. Page 99 and the rest of the chapter that it is a part of presents a semiotic and political critique of the current cultural politics of the Mexican Nation state and its engagements with indigenous languages. The rest of the dissertation uses historical, linguistic and ethnographic evidence to show why local revitalization projects can fulfill important social functions in the communities where they take place. This includes using the language as a medium with which to form local counter publics and shape local political movements, or as an instrument with which to attain local political goals through the strategic use of the currently popular discourses of indigeneity, language endangerment and cultural heritage management.

Pharao Hansen, Magnus. 2016. “Nahuatl Nation: Language Revitalization and Indigenous Resurgence in 21st Century Mexico.” PhD dissertation, Brown University.

Magnus Pharao Hansen
Magnus Pharao Hansen
Nahuatl Studies Blog

2 thoughts on “Magnus Pharao Hansen’s “Nahuatl Nation: Language Revitalization and Indigenous Resurgence in 21st Century Mexico”

  1. The relevant quote from page 99 of my dissertation is: “Expropriation of indigenous resources has been, and continues to be, a basic element policy of Mexican national development (Coria and Encinas 2015). Expropriation is a process of conquest that masquerades as liberal business, and which superficially carries the trappings of a quid pro quo, positive-sum, win-win arrangement. However, on further inspection, at least when taking on the viewpoint of those from whom resources are expropriated, it invariably turns out to be a predatory process in which the state exploits is citizens, and justifies the exploitation by reference to a greater good. Today, as national culture increasingly values indigenous cultural production, the expropriationary process has turned to exploiting the semiotic resources of indigenous peoples. What has changed is not the nature of the process, which continues to be expropriationary, but that the resources that are subject to expropriation are no longer only material, but also symbolic. This is not entirely new, after all the national period saw the large scale nationalization of the indigenous past through the institutionalization of archeology and history, but what is new is that the current phase of expropriation also aims to incorporate the living fields of indigenous cultural production into the national economy. Where previous phases of symbolic expropriation separated indigenous communities from their pasts in order to enshrine it as National History, the current phase sees the indigenous communities itself as a deposit of resources to be exploited. Another difference is that where expropriated resources in the nationalist period stayed in the national field of cultural production for local consumption, in this period it is specifically marketed to a public of international consumers, where the symbolic resources are used as a part of Mexico’s brand.”(Pharao Hansen, 2016:99)


  2. Pingback: Page 99 challenge – Magnus Pharao Hansen

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