I find myself, on page 99, in the middle of a crisis of translation. Unsurprising, given that my “in” to dissertation fieldwork resembled that of many anthropologists, who often find their place among their interlocutors as translators. In my case, working at an all-women news agency in Kurdistan, it was as a translator of a particular kind: of languages, but also of feminisms.
I first met the journalists of JINHA when I traveled to Turkey in 2013 to research the alarming crackdown on journalists, mostly radical Kurdish journalists, who were being tried on trumped-up charges of terrorist affiliation—which the Turkish state often uses to criminalize Kurdish communities by association with the Kurdish guerrilla, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). (Today, after the all-out war the Turkish state has waged on journalists since 2015, including shutting down JINHA and imprisoning its founder, the artist Zehra Doğan, those trials seem like a prelude.)
I was introduced to two journalists from the newly founded JINHA (Women’s News Agency). They were shocked that I, as a woman, was tagging along with their male colleagues rather than engaging with their all-women media project based in Diyarbakır, in Kurdistan. Soon enough I had signed on as their new English translator. It was my job to translate their stories, and with it their concept (formed through the Kurdish women’s movement) of “the world of women”—the world of everyday solidarities and resistance among women working to survive the patriarchy, often sidelined by what misogynistic journalism considered newsworthy.
It was my task to translate this world of women for “the women of the world,” and it was not easy. If I translated the news reports directly, they were illegible out of context. I grapple with this on page 99:
“Part of the problem, I realized, was present already in the Turkish-language original text (the bulk of JINHA’s output is composed in Turkish). These texts constantly had an imagined Turkish reader in mind. Of course they imagined a Kurdish reader, as well; the women who wrote them had a deep knowledge of Kurdish women’s experience, and wrote and worked out of a passion for the Kurdish women around them. But they also had a keen knowledge of the dominant group, Turkish women, whom they had seen on TV as the models of ‘womanhood’ since they were children, whom they had often grown up alongside in their urban Istanbul neighborhoods, or marched with in university. They could write equally for this audience as for Kurdish women. So in a way, the news itself was already being translated in its instance of creation into the respectability politics of state feminism, the Turkish left, and the feminisms of that context. It was into this already-tangled communication between ‘women of the world’ that I stepped, into its image of ‘womanhood’ that overrode all individual experiences to point out the shared suffering rather than the differences.”
I found myself bumping up against various intimate differences among women along class and racialized lines, which the category of woman was bridging. Over the course of my fieldwork, I absorbed JINHA’s urgency for translating the project of women’s journalism near and far, and took it upon myself to translate and select stories that I imagined might speak widely too. My dissertation ultimately argues that JINHA, through their newsmaking, crafted new kinds of women subjects, by making women speak as women, as part of an imagined community of women. As I became a translator of the world of women, I became crafted into this kind of subject myself.
Hyemin Lee: I am curious about how this book will circulate among a broader audience interested in the problem of language. You argue that the anthropological study of glossolalia should be centered around conceptualizing glossolalia as cultural semiosis. As you put it, this cultural semiosis “is said to contain, and therefore can be justified by, an ideological core of language, but in fact is produced at the ideological limits of language” (7). That is, when Korean Christians posit glossolalia as language, this is only possible because glossolalia challenges assumptions of what is fundamentally necessary about language. Thus, you offer an analytical framework that locates both glossolalia’s denotational unintelligibility and cultural intelligibility within the production of an experience of language. How would you envision your argument to be taken up by future scholars in and outside of anthropology who study and work on the problem of language?
Nick Harkness: First of all, thank you for engaging so seriously and carefully with this book. It is a great opportunity to discuss it with a linguistic anthropologist who specializes in the study of Korea! And I appreciate your crisp characterization of my attempt: “readers are presented with an analytical framework that locates both glossolalia’s denotational unintelligibility and cultural intelligibility within the production of an experience of language.” Your first question goes straight to the problem of language as an existential and practical issue for human social groups everywhere. This issue has led to two crucial insights in anthropology. The first is that language is a dynamic complex of structure, practice, and ideology—what Michael Silverstein called the “total linguistic fact.” The second is that this dynamic complex consists of different kinds of signs; some will be relatively unique to language, and others will resemble broader sociocultural processes. This book combines these two insights by situating glossolalia within a broader linguistic, communicational, and semiotic context. This meant connecting it ethnographically and historically to the specificities of language (especially Korean), and to markedly non-linguistic practices both within the churches and beyond them. Glossolalia is interesting generally because it suppresses some of the signs that are most unique to, and thought to be necessary for, language. In South Korea, glossolalia is practiced across Protestant Christian communities, well beyond the kinds of Pentecostal or Charismatic groups normally represented in the literature. And a language like Korean and a linguistic context like South Korea present a stark contrast to the residual European (heavily Anglophone) linguistic ideologies that typically shape how language is dealt with (or not dealt with) in the scholarship on glossolalia. I treat glossolalia less as a defining feature of charismatic Christianity (which of course would be the obvious comparative approach) and instead see it as a telling feature of South Korean social life in the 20th and early 21st centuries, which was given a specific shape and amplified by Christianity’s massification and diversification there. The problem of language in this model quickly becomes the problem of the social.
Hyemin Lee: Your new book reminds me of your first book, Songs of Seoul. I would like to know more about connections between your research projects. How did you come to research glossolalia? And how is glossolalia related to your first book’s fieldwork?
Nick Harkness: You’re absolutely right. The two books could be read together as a two-volume set on voice and religion in Christian South Korea. Although the specific forms and institutional centers discussed in each book differ, the populations are continuous, and so too the practices. My research in South Korea began with an empirical question about the number and relative success of South Korean singers of European-style classical (especially operatic) music on international stages. These singers led me to the Protestant churches of Seoul, especially the affluent middle and upper-class (usually Presbyterian) megachurches, where most of them sang. And my first book became a study of human artistic vocality shaped by Korean Christianity (major fieldwork in 2008-9). These same singers, and the churches more broadly, led me to study glossolalia (major fieldwork in 2013-14), because I began to notice, with surprise, how many of them, their family members, and friends, spoke in tongues or participated in Christian settings where tongues were spoken—despite their Presbyterian church affiliations and upper-class, educated identities. The first book was oriented to the relationship between registers and genres of singing and a specific kind of (generally aspirational) social voicing, and the second was oriented to the relationship between registers and genres of speech and a specific kind of (often fervent) spiritual voicing.
In the second book I drew far more widely from different Christian contexts in South Korea. For the first book, I focused on an upper-class Presbyterian megachurch of approximately 70,000 people and one of the most prestigious colleges of music. For the second, I turned my attention to the ritual and historical center of glossolalia in South Korea, the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which was established in an impoverished peri-urban settlement after the Korean War (1950-3) and over a few decades grew to claim at one point more than 800,000 people. I then followed the historical wake of the Yoido Full Gospel Church to the more upper-class populations, where glossolalia eventually became common, but far more unevenly and ambivalently practiced, often at the ritual peripheries of the church institutions. Putting these two studies together, as you suggest, reveals something far more complicated than Pentecostalism as such—instead pointing to a Korean cultural context of vocality and vocalized sociality that manifests in different musical and linguistic forms, under different Christian and related institutions, with considerable sociological and ideological fluidity and historical connection between (and beyond) them.
Hyemin Lee: It is very intriguing to find out how glossolalia and cacophony, when combined, transform the sensory environment of the prayerful where pitch, rhythm, and tempo emerge as a new semiotic orientation to produce ritually and intersubjectively organized poetic form(s). I am very interested in this rich analysis of glossolalia focusing on sounds, perceptions, feelings, and qualitative metaphors/descriptions. One might surmise that these sensuous qualities are linked to specific prayer styles (e.g., “hard, with passion” (세게, 열정적으로) (153)) and/or an idealized image of the prayerful. Could the methodological-analytical framework of qualia be applied to analyze these sensuous dimensions of glossolalia in Korean churches. Do you think it is plausible to use qualia to analyze glossolalia in Korean churches?
Nick Harkness: The short answer is: yes! By qualia, I think you are referring to the effects of sign processes as they are experienced sensuously. And given your own excellent research on Korean traditional medicine and the semiotics of bodily relief, this is an important point of connection between our work. Attention to qualia allows us to look empirically at how large-scale semiotic processes are made to seem—to “feel”—non-semiotic, that is, to be experienced as the natural, given properties of “what there is.” Such attention helps us better understand how the divine is made sensuously present (a relatively old question), and to trace a pathway from the feeling of speech and social interaction in everyday life to the more focused, concentrated modes of spiritual interaction, of which glossolalia is a limit case. As your question indicates, though, I mention qualia only briefly. Why? The press imposed a limit of 80,000 words, and a serious treatment of qualia would have pushed it way over. I was also mindful of contemporary readers’ terminological allergies (sometimes scholars need to behave like servers in a restaurant: “are there any allergies I should be aware of?”). To riff on Malinowski’s phrase: any hint of experienced obscurity is clearly not a virtue for an academic culture so influenced by a Protestant linguistic ideology of direct, unhindered access. Personally, I agree with you that further careful, technical, empirical investigation of the qualia problem in relation to glossolalia and related practices would help reveal the “production of an experience of language” as you so nicely put it above and show semiotic processes at work beyond the more familiar ethnography-as-creative-narrative-non-fiction approach to the descriptive phenomenology of spiritual encounter.
Hyemin Lee:While reading the book, I was surprised to see many connections between glossolalia and the body, such as the idea of healing the body, human anatomy, and kinesics. The human throat’s morphological and functional openness creates a semiotic space starting from the lips (or mouth) to the tongue, to the throat, and ultimately to the heart, all of which are structurally iconic to the pathway of Word travelling through the Holy Spirit. Also, an individual’s bodily movements and gestures may connect to glossolalic practice(s). What you think about these relationships between glossolalia and the human body? Do you have any ethnographic or analytic accounts where the body played a significant role in glossolalia in Korean churches?
Nick Harkness: The sequential structure of your questions overall is wonderfully figurative of this particular question! From language (1), to continuity qua vocality (2), to qualia (3), and now to the body (4). In my earlier book, I spent a lot of energy on the body—focusing on singing technique and health makes this rather unavoidable. Here, I ask how diverse glossolalic practices were held together by the problem of language. Indeed, practitioners of glossolalia regularly foregrounded bodily sensations. But they also often emphasized other aspects, such as the explicitly social (connecting with or disconnecting from others), the overtly cognitive (such as sending or decoding denotational messages), or even the blatantly apathetic (just self-reflexively and banally participating to participate). Yet the body does make frequent, vivid appearances. More broadly, elements of Korean charismatic Christianity can be traced to shamanic practices of bodily possession and healing, while Korea’s contemporary Pentecostal form was birthed from the bodily and psychological trauma of post-war South Korea. The body is many things at once in glossolalia: a source of sound production, an organized gestural space of articulation, a porous boundary (e.g., for spiritual water, fire, air), a vehicle of spiritual encounter and transmission, epistemological center, object of divine intervention, and so on. This all varied dramatically across theological spaces and individuals. There were some relatively formalized gestures and postures of prayer that could be intensified in glossolalia. But I found the spread and diversity of their contextualized functions more revealing than the formal regularities. In the book’s appendix (speaking of the body!), which is an historical reconstruction of the invention of term “glossolalia” (die Glossolalie) in early 19th Century German theology, one can see how the problem of the body (from the movement of the tongue to entire states of bodily frenzy) was a problem from the very beginning of its modern coinage.
Hyemin Lee: Lastly, I am curious about South Korea’s socio-historical context where Korean Christianity prospered. I truly enjoyed your discussion of how glossolalia as a sociolinguistic reality has to do with South Korea’s postwar context. I would like to hear more about the recent socio-historical contexts relevant to the glossolalia’s growth. Do you think that the recent socio-economic events, such as the IMF crisis (IMF 위기) in the late 1990s and rapid globalization (e.g., the lift of overseas travel bans in 1989), also played roles in shaping today’s sociolinguistic reality of glossolalia in Korean churches?
Nick Harkness: I really appreciate ending with this question, highlighting more recent Korean history against the background of over 60 years of glossolalia, and over 130 years of Protestant vocality. I emphasize the years just before and after the Korean War, when North Korean churches came south from Pyongyang and when the Yoido Full Gospel church was established. I also emphasize the 1960s through the 1980s, the most dramatic period of Protestant church growth in terms of numbers and church size. Democratization and globalization (late 80s-90s) initiated a period of global mobility. The overseas education industry produced both widespread multi-lingual contact as well as overseas enclaves, where fervent Christianity seems to have thrived. This period led to the global Korean culture industry—Kpop and the Korean wave. It also produced a surplus of seminary graduates, who ultimately needed to go overseas for missionary work because there weren’t enough Christians at home. And the Asian financial crisis (late 90s) produced major shocks for Asian societies organized around rapid economic development. One effect of financial loss was to encourage some lay members to become more devout members. When businesses failed, some turned not only to the church, but also to church business. So yes, indeed there is a connection with the development of Christianity.
However, I am not as sure about glossolalia as such. When it comes to glossolalia specifically, I think it has probably reached its saturation point, and will probably decline. I realize this is bad for business in the Anthropology of Christianity, which tends to rely on identifying new charismatic forms and sites of practice to justify its anthropological mission. But a serious investigation of the “total linguistic fact” develops a picture somewhat different from the one generated by theories that treat charismatic Christianity as an unstoppable global capitalist cargo cult or a cybernetic machine of self-reproduction. From the point of view of the problem of language, it is hard to see how glossolalia would continue at its current rates, let alone expand, in South Korea. The Pentecostal center is decreasingly influential, the communicational contexts across Christian populations continue to shift, and the diversity of practices and ideologies at the peripheries do not suggest revival, concentration, or significant formalization there. One occasionally hears that there are more former members of the Yoido Full Gospel Church than current members (and this goes for Protestant Christians in South Korea more generally).
Someone might misunderstand me to be addressing the rise of religious doubt. My focus, however, is on the “dynamic synchrony” of glossolalia in South Korea—the historical dimensions at work in its contemporary diversity. Glossolalia became widespread across South Korean Protestant communities under specific historical conditions. Those conditions have changed, and it may now be a victim of its own success. Glossolalia has spread out widely and unevenly across an (aging, shrinking) Christian population, while its explicitly theological relevance wanes. I don’t think we commit any grave analytical sin by viewing the sociolinguistic fact of glossolalia in part as a socio-semiotic trend, despite its profound significance for many individuals, its undeniable scale, the very public presence of many of its most fervent practitioners, and its obvious longevity thus far. Although glossolalia has become normalized across Christian communities, there is already a strong and growing feeling of “pastness” attributed to it (speaking of qualia!)—associated especially with earlier periods of more fervent practice and growth (such as the 1980s). Who knows exactly what will happen with Korean Christianity? The contemporary political dimensions of conservative Christianity in South Korea pose more than a few questions. But it seems likely at least that widespread, fervent, explicitly Christian denotationalunintelligibility—as the formalized structural negation of a core ideological principle of language, a negation that defines glossolalic practice—will become less and less culturally intelligible (or valuable).
The 99th page of my dissertation, “Mediating Micronesian Futures: Potentialities and Precarity in Cultural Production Among Mobile Pacific Islanders,” marks a transition in a chapter introducing how contemporary people from the Federated States of Micronesia engage diverse media to connect on their home islands and further afield. The chapter’s first sections follow a ritual sound from the island of Pohnpei, FSM as it is deployed by Pohnpeians to continue its mediating work of gathering participants in feast houses, but also to communicate respect during Pohnpeian radio broadcasts and to engage diverse crowds at international events on Pohnpei and abroad. Page 99 moves from tracing this enduring Pohnpeian mediator to broadly introducing other indigenous and incorporated technologies in Micronesians’ media worlds. Faye Ginsburg, Brian Larkin, and Lila Abu Lughod argue that analyzing ‘media worlds’ “situates media as a social practice within… shifting political and cultural frames,” (2002: 3). The media worlds shaped by contemporary Micronesians span islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and places in Guam, Hawai‘i, and the continental United States where an estimated 1 in 3 FSM citizens and their diaspora-born children travel, work, and live as legal non-immigrants. These transnational Micronesian media worlds enlarge the scale of the transmission and transformations of cultural knowledge and protocol, as well as valued materials. As articulated by Epeli Hau‘ofa, the contemporary circulation of Pacific people, valued Oceanic foods and substances, and Western materials within the Pacific and beyond move through long-held cultural patterns of families’ reciprocal interdependence, but now between kin at home, in motion, and in diaspora (1993; see also Peter 2000; Gershon 2007, 2012). People on Pohnpei and among the FSM diaspora on Guam narrated how they deploy multiple communicative modalities in their work to maintain expected kinship roles from a distance. This section presents types of modalities deployed across contemporary Micronesians’ networks intertwined with my interlocutors’ narratives about communication devices’ and media platforms’ roles in facilitating valued socioeconomic exchanges that underlie practices of interdependent care and support among kin (Hau‘ofa 2008.) Further narratives describe negotiations around connectivity and respect in communication across social media platforms, and diverse media modalities’ incorporation in processes of documenting and transmitting culturally-significant knowledge, forms, and performances.
Page 99 then describes hand carried letters and packages on planes, and subsequent pages discuss Micronesians’ narratives about culturally-inflected engagement with high-frequency, CB, and satellite radios; families’ communal mobile phones; WhatsApp and Facebook; film and digital photography; as well as camcorders and cell phone films.
I conducted my dissertation fieldwork with islanders on Pohnpei and with FSM diaspora on Guam, indigenous home of the Chamoru and an unincorporated U.S. territory, during periods from 2015 to 2018. Re-reading this page in 2021 — and later chapters about Pohnpeians’ digitized participation in mortuary and other rituals from afar — underscores how highly diasporic populations have been shaping ways to participate in their families’ life events through mediating technologies long before many governments’ social distancing mandates in 2020 widely necessitated digitally-mediated gatherings for celebrations and mourning in order to quell the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Jacqueline Hazen. 2020. “Mediating Micronesian Futures: Potentialities and Precarity in Cultural Production Among Mobile Pacific Islanders.” New York University Phd.
Rob Shore: Using the lens of social science on Shakespeare seems at once radical and—after having read the book—obvious. Tell me about how you conceived of the project and summarize the main argument you are making.
Bradd Shore: The book was written to bring together convincingly the two most important sides of my intellectual life: (1) Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and (2) anthropologically grounded social theory. My interest in Shakespeare began when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley back in the early 1960s. I was an English major and had the good fortune to study with some brilliant Shakespeare scholars in Berkeley’s distinguished English Department, at the time the best place in the world for studying Renaissance English literature.
As I studied Shakespeare, I took several excellent courses in political theory. As I read thinkers like Locke and Hume and Plato and Rousseau, I was struck by surprising overlaps between the concerns of political philosophers and Shakespeare. Of course, Shakespeare expressed himself through drama rather than philosophical discourse. Nonetheless, I saw in Shakespeare’s work a theoretical genius paralleling his poetic and dramatic skills.
Shakespeare’s approach to theory was not always immediately apparent in the plays. He had found a way to embed a theoretical perspective in his plays without dislocating or disrupting the theatrical and poetic power of the drama. I became interested in his plays as fascinating and often underappreciated reflections on many of the same issues that I would study in my later career as an anthropologist, issues like the theatrical nature of political power, the creative and procreative power of art and nature, dilemmas of sex and gender, reconciling love and marriage, life as performance, the power of ritual, the relation between language and reality, and the human effort to make meaning.
I also wanted to understand how Shakespeare did all this by telling stories. So I began to study the literary techniques he used to manage this marriage of story-telling and theory. Imagining Shakespeare as an anthropologist, it was as if he had figured out how to write vivid ethnography so that it reflected theoretically back on itself. His remarkable techniques relied on new ways of imagining perspectives emerging in both early Renaissance painting and optics.
Shakespeare and Social Theory was written to shine a light on Shakespeare as a theoretical mind through new readings of six of his plays. However, it is equally an attempt to account for his craftsmanship through studying historical changes in representing perspective that allowed Shakespeare to stage self-analyzing dramas.
Rob Shore: Your analysis reveals texts full of multiple, playful, and often deceptive meanings. Some of them are compelling and quite clear. But others are hidden under layers of abstraction and misdirection. What methods do you use from anthropology to unpack meaning, and how did you find the process of translating those tools to literary analysis?
Bradd Shore: Clifford Geertz famously compared the data of cultural anthropology to a text, a comparison that has been both admired and criticized over the years. For both literature and human behavior, the text analogy points to the need for interpretation, a requirement as troublesome as it is necessary for making sense of things human.
One of the problems an interpreter faces is that the meaning of something—the meaning affordances of its internal structure and coherence, is not the same thing as the meaning for someone, which is a process of imaginative engagement of a mind with the world. For an anthropologist, the meaning for someone requires emic analysis, how the locals understand their world and actions: what matters to them. The meaning of something requires etic analysis, an attempt at an objective account of the meaning-making properties inherent in an act or an object. We struggle to do both kinds of analysis and reconcile them, but the reconciliation often proves challenging. Often anthropologists end up choosing one or the other perspective.
In approaching Shakespeare’s plays, we have no privileged window into Shakespeare’s mind and intentions. We only have his texts and the complex patterns that he weaves with his language and play structure. The closest we come to an emic perspective in the absence of a Shakespearean literary memoir are the social historians’ reconstructions of the culture of Shakespeare’s day and the kinds of ideas and things of interest to Elizabethan writers and artists.
Fortunately, there is no need to read meaning into Shakespeare’s work. We only need to read his work, carefully and repeatedly, alternating our study of the plays with a study of the evolving cultural, political, scientific, and artistic of Shakespeare’s world. When Shakespeare wanted to make a theoretical point, he left plenty of clues in his work: clues in his choice of language, his virtuosic wordplay, his characters’ names, his way with tropes (especially metaphors), and the messages he built into his manipulation of literary and artistic conventions. Careful reading and attention to his use of irony can help uncover those patterns.
Interpretation is built up from evidence found in these repeated patterns throughout the play. Thus, my analyses of the plays are extensive and based on very close readings of Shakespeare’s words, accompanied by historical explications of Elizabethan culture. A satisfying interpretation makes sense of otherwise anomalous and puzzling aspects of the text. That sense-making looks inward to the language and structure of the play and outward to the institutions and culture of Shakespeare’s day.
To be convincing, an interpretation does not have to be the only possible account of a play. In their miraculous richness, Shakespeare’s plays are irreducible to a single meaning. Still, some readings make more sense than others. A satisfying interpretation leaves the reader with a sense of having a light illuminate something that was always there but had eluded both sight and insight. Good interpretations produce aha moments for the reader.
Rob Shore: You advocate for a “close reading” approach to texts that were intended to be staged. What does that tell us about Shakespeare’s intent?
Bradd Shore: Shakespeare was both a thinker and a theatrical producer. He understood what his primary audience wanted to see, and he gave them plays that were exciting, engaging, terrifying, funny, all the things that great theater can produce.
I think I present enough textual evidence that my readings of the play will stand as credible interpretations of what is actually in the plays. However, these are not interpretations that Shakespeare intended for the immediate consumption of the Globe’s audience. Instead, I think they were written as look-again-readings of the texts for a more sophisticated audience. Shakespeare’s theoretical voice was intended for readers rather than viewers, by those interested in the play of great ideas rather than drama’s more immediate experience. As a result, Shakespeare wrote plays that were both compelling dramas and effective theoretical treatises. The only other writer I know who regularly pulled off the same kind of double-dealing magic was Plato in his Socratic dialogues.
Rob Shore:In a book so concerned with double meaning and wordplay, you must have felt some pressure in coming up with a title. How did you approach the task?
Bradd Shore: I like playful titles that encourage multiple meanings. So my initial title was Shakespeare and the Play of Great Ideas. However, my editor at Routledge found that title somewhat vague and wanted a title that would attract both social scientists and literary types. So I agreed to the more straightforward title and was happy that the press allowed me to keep “The Play of Great Ideas” as a subtitle.
Rob Shore: If Shakespeare’s play of ideas was a reflection of a technological and cultural paradigm shift in perspective, how do you think Shakespeare would adapt his work to reflect our current moment: 24/7 digital transmedia omniscience, hyper-irony, double-talk, fake news, a deep bench of Shakespearean political figures, and all the rest? Does that reality make his texts more, less, or just differently relevant today?
Bradd Shore: I have no idea what modern technology Shakespeare would exploit were he to write today. But he would likely be attracted to the possibilities of modern theater and film for playing up the problems of representation and perspective.
Shakespeare can be thought of as modern in three senses. First, he is modern in being concerned with universal themes, as relevant for today’s audiences as those of his time. Second, he is modern in being ahead of his time. In my book, I show how his plays anticipate psychoanalytic theory, exchange theory, modern metaphor theory, performance theory, political theory, cognitive anthropology, Queer Theory, and structuralism in more sophisticated ways than we ever imagined.
Finally, Shakespeare is modern in his radical interrogation of the world and his awareness of the influence of perspective on how one views reality. While traditional critics like E.M.W. Tillyard tried to convince us that Shakespeare’s work was essentially an extension of medieval political and social thought, they overlook Shakespeare’s characteristic irony, attraction to paradox, and relentless questioning of orthodoxy. Shakespeare and Social Theory was written to highlight the radical character of the plays.
The 99th page of my dissertation, “Publics of Value: Higher Education and Language Activism in Turkey and North Kurdistan,” falls midway in my second chapter, where I seek to situate my primary field site – Turkey’s first state-recognized Kurdish-language university program at Artuklu University in Mardin – within the sociolinguistic realities of public life in the city and wider province, as well as within larger shifts in the political discourses and language practices of the Kurdish movement, Turkish state institutions, and local actors. This forms part of a larger discussion, developed over the first two chapters, that considers how differently positioned actors in Mardin and beyond have come to deploy Mesopotamia as a label designating a post-national, multicultural space that differentiates itself from conventional nationalist geographic imaginaries (such as Turkey or Kurdistan) and how this category is used to confer new value on multilingualism and Mardin’s local polyglot speech communities.
The first half of page 99 concludes a longer discussion of the analytical categories of language and speech communities and the dynamic interaction between the two (Gal 1988; Silverstein 1998). The second half begins to consider how this interaction has reshaped local language regimes in Mardin in recent decades, describing how:
“In Mardin, importantly, the values of Mesopotamia have been realized in relation to a dynamic language regime that is itself a product of a specific, if shifting sociohistorical spacetime – one in which Mesopotamia has come to represent both a validation of the values of Mardin’s speech community in relation to the nationalist projects of both the Turkey and Kurdistan and, conversely, the imposition of new linguistic projects by competing institutional forces (i.e. the Kurdish movement, the Turkish state, and the predominantly English- language domains of ‘global’ higher education and transnational tourism)” (pp. 99).
Considering the page in the context of the larger dissertation, I’m quite fortunate – within the terms of the ‘page 99 test’ – that it contains an important inflection point in my analysis with clear relevance for the larger work. Looking back a year after my defense, I can’t avoid detecting what now appear to me as moments of underdeveloped tangents, misplaced emphasis, and missed opportunities for greater clarification or precision – not to mention an ever-growing number of typos (page 99 being no exception). On the other hand, page 99 contains the seeds of two interrelated insights that I consider to be, in their fully developed form, among the work’s more important contributions: The first, inspired in part by the work by Woolard (2016) and others, is that Kurdish-language activism is not reducible to a paradigm of Kurdish nationalist politics, but embraces a range of political and social meanings that require further contextualization and explanation; and the second is that my Kurdish-language activist interlocutors, rather than proponents of predefined political or linguistic projects, are agentive actors working to remake the values of the Kurdish language in public life in ways that are generative of new identities, political subjectivities, and horizons of belonging.
Gal, Susan. “The Political Economy of Code Choice.” Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives 48 (1988): 245-64.
Silverstein, Michael. “Contemporary Transformations of Local Linguistic Communities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 27, no. 1 (1998): 401-426
Woolard, Kathryn. Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia. Oxford University Press, 2016.