Rihan Yeh on her new book, Passing


Interview by Héctor Beltrán

Héctor Beltrán: In your book you conceptualize the hearsay public to provide a critique of liberal notions of publicity. Can you unpack how this relationship frames your argument, and the ethnographic labor involved in making these connections?

 Rihan Yeh: Passing looks at how, in Tijuana, a middle-class public oriented towards liberal ideals of public communication both faces off against and intertwines with a popular, working-class public that takes shape through genres of hearsay: communications framed as that which “everyone knows.” For me, what’s interesting about the hearsay public is that it provides a critique of liberal publicity from within. This isn’t a social formation based on any authentically ‘other’ cultural tradition; it arises from processes of marginalization and denials of recognition that are inherent to liberally-oriented “we”s. These “we”s are always creating more “they”s out there, and the hearsay public is one – to me, very compelling – way to inhabit that position of the third person.

To see ethnographically how middle-class and popular senses of we-ness take shape in relationship to each other (as well as to the United States, via the border), you need a method that will hone in on the dialogic overtones of people’s interactions across a really wide variety of settings, from, say, checkpoint encounters to dinner-table discussions. These interactions, of course, also necessarily have to involve people not just from one urban community or socioeconomic niche, but from many, many walks of life. The ethnographic labor is in being there in all these different situations and being able to put them together—or, rather, seeing how other people put them together, on the fly, as they try to carve out a place for themselves in the city, in the nation, and in the wider world.

Continue reading

CaMP Anthropology Virtual Reading Group

Dear colleagues,

Many of you have been able to join us over the past few months for our new virtual reading group. We meet the last Friday of every month from 1-2pm Eastern Time to discuss recently published work with authors working at the intersection of communication, media, and performance.

Over the next few months, we will be joined by:

  • April 27th- Sonia Das
  • August 31st- Erika Hoffman-Dilloway
  • September 28th – Karin Barber
  • October 26th – Tom Gieryn

If you would like to participate in our next virtual meeting and be added to our mailing list, please email campsemiotics@gmail.com. We will send you a link to our shared Dropbox folder, where you can find PDF copies of the chapters we will discuss with the authors, as well as a link to our Zoom virtual meeting room.

We hope you all can join us!

Eva-Marie Dubuisson on her new book, Living Language in Kazahkstan

Living Language in Kazakhstan


Interview by Meghanne Barker

Meghanne Barker: Your initial fieldwork on aitys — a performed genre of Kazakh poetry — looked at issues of politics and performance within this form that you describe as inherently dialogic. Living Language expands your study to examine Kazakhs’ relationships with ancestors not only through this poetic performance but also through other everyday blessings, bata. How did you decide that “dialogic” was the best analytic term to caption the phenomena you examine here, as opposed to, say, “intertextuality,” since both bata and aitys seem to get framed through enxtextualizing re-contextualizing processes?

Eva-Marie Dubuisson: We are always writing against a silent strawman in a way, and for me that was the presumed immutability of a conscribed or repressive environment – where overt political opposition is often met with jailing or death. In terms of my engagement with a notion of power, I want to understand not ‘how repression works,’ but ‘how change is actually possible,’ and how worlds function outside the apparatus of the state.  I wanted to write about alternative sources of authority, and in how they become present or enacted, and in that sense, it is the idea of coming into being which is singly most important for me, and that led me to a focus on dialogic emergence, which was most compelling and the best fit for what I wanted to express.

If we look at generic reproduction in the case of any one single tradition, we could certainly say that what I describe in my ethnography are instances of “intersubjective entextualization” with all its constituent uncertainty (see Silverstein and Urban 1996).  But in my analysis I am ultimately concerned not so much with the existence or  content of any one given text, but in the emergence of a particular role across a variety of contexts, traditions, and speech genres.  I am focused on the way in which ancestors are not just available for interaction, but actually moving into that space – my concern is not with the particular content of any one message, but on the quality and position of those interacting, and in roles and the emergence of ancestors as participants in interaction.  For example, in conversations, how is it that ancestors might actually participate – in what moments, in what modes and mediums of communication, in and through which interlocutors, in which contexts?  In other words, how are they ratified as participants in interaction (see Goffman 1981)?

2006 615 copy

Meghanne Barker: What contribution do you see this focus on ancestry making to our understanding of dialogism?

Eva-Marie Dubuisson: The answer to the questions you have posed here also lies not only in the temporal and spatial dimensions, but also in the representative capacity or potential of a voice, and in its constituent parts (heteroglossia). In my work, we see a variety of speakers and collaborators bringing to life the invocation, words, and presence of ancestors in a variety of ways, and for me there are two related theoretical questions here.  First, when exactly could we say that an ancestor becomes present in those forms of social dialoguing? I examine this in the case of everyday blessings (bata, explained above), the miracle stories and prayers at shrine sites, and the performance of public poetry. But second, given the obviously multivocalic nature of various oral traditions (like bata, prayer, miracle stories, public poetry, and even statist rhetoric), what is the political work being done in any claim to monologism? Continue reading