Omotayo’s book, You Can’t Go to War Without Song

Tayo Jolaosho died on October 21, 2021, months before their book was published in July 2022. We honor their work and memory with an interview with their dissertation advisor, Dorothy Hodgson, about their insights.

Interview by Deborah Durham

Deborah Durham: First let me say how devastating it is that the author themself cannot answer these questions: their book, You Can’t Go to War Without Song, is so full of life, and promise. One thing that struck me in particular about the book was how attuned Omotayo was to the embodied dimensions of performance, from toyi-toying in the streets to discomforts and assertions in South African offices. Their accounts of embodied political activism are so powerful because of their combined intimacy and acute insight. How did Omotayo come to have such intimacy with embodiment and performance?

Dorothy Hodgson: I share your devastation.  I had the honor of serving as Tayo’s PhD advisor and mentor, and eventually their close friend. Although Tayo (who used the pronouns they/them) is no longer with us, I have the benefit of being able to cite their own words to answer some of these questions from their various application letters, personal and research statements, and other sources I have kept over the years. Their words will appear in italics.

Tayo’s extraordinary book, You Can’t Go to War Without Song, draws on their formative experiences of embodiment and performance growing up in Nigeria and later as a playwright, performer, poet, and singer at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, where they started at the age of 14. At Simon’s Rock, they studied music and integrated arts, won a national playwriting competition, and twice received the Division of the Arts prize, awarded by the faculty to recognize significant contributions to the division of Arts and Aesthetics.

In the course of my life, I have had the opportunity to experience the power and importance of the art both personally and within a process of community. Growing up in Nigeria, whereas in many other parts of Africa, the arts are not divorced from everyday life, my consciousness of and passion for the arts was nurtured. I remember how each morning my mother, my brother and I would gather to sing hymns; song and dance would also manifest in the course of our daily duties and activities, in our childhood play, in storytelling, etc. These artistic expressions served as our inheritance as members of a community.

This connection to the arts did not leave me when I came to live in the United States. In fact, it only deepened to the point of my going on to study music and integrated arts at an undergraduate level. When asked why I chose to pursue this course of study as opposed to “something more practical” my response came easily: music and performance saved my life, for me there’s nothing more practical than that. Music and performance enabled me to preserve a presence of mind, a sense of identity and functioned as catharsis for me during a traumatic period of living in a physically, sexually and emotionally abusive home. Singing songs written by others but which nonetheless told my story encouraged me and served as my resistance in that it became a source through which I could express my dissent without fear of adverse consequences. It enabled me to speak my dissent in the presence of my “guardians” but under the protection of someone else’s voice.

What Tayo called their “passion for creative expression” infused every aspect of their scholarly, professional and personal life. Some of my favorite memories are watching them start many presentations- whether their dissertation defense, a public talk, a conference panel – with song.  They would close their eyes, take a deep breath, and start singing with no accompaniment – usually one of the songs dear to the activists they worked with in South Africa. Initially, audience members would be startled, but quickly entranced and moved as Tayo demonstrated their argument – the power of performance to disrupt and shape the world.

Deborah Durham: Following through on that, Omotayo engaged with issues of women’s rights, dignity and ubuntu, and concern with inequality though a variety of expressive media – could you tell us more about their writing and work outside of conventional anthropological ethnography?

Dorothy Hodgson: All of Tayo’s work pushed – and often broke – the boundaries of
so-called conventional ethnography.  Two notable products were what they called “performance ethnography” and “digital anthropology”- explanations and examples of both are available on their still-live website.

As a performer myself, I have a unique opportunity to explore the benefits of ethnographic performance for research and dissemination, including through policy. Towards this, I developed a one-woman show based on my interviews and field notes with South African women activists. The show, “Three Women (Break The Silence),” subsequently expanded into an ensemble piece that examines what it means to find one’s voice amidst gendered repression and restrictions on women’s bodily and sexual autonomy. These themes—of harassment and consent, in particular—have risen to prominence in political debate and public discourse here in the United States and in South Africa, especially over the past two years with the resurgence of #MeToo as a worldwide movement. Being a work of theatre, Three Women highlights these concerns in non-didactic ways, seeking rather to open audiences to further dialogue and inquiry into African women’s lives and varied experiences. Following a staged reading at the renowned Market Theatre Lab in Johannesburg in 2018, the play received a touring production in three South African cities in 2019.

In addition to their powerful show, “Three Women (Break The Silence),” which I had the pleasure of seeing them perform at the 2017 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders and Sexualities at Hofstra University, Tayo was also finalizing a digital anthropology project, “The Freedom Sung Project,” which they described as: an online interactive exhibit built from a digital collection of video footage and song recordings I made during ethnographic fieldwork in South Africa. The collection includes over 120 footage hours of unedited interviews and coverage of collective rallies that countered the invisibility experienced by politically marginalized communities. The online exhibit will serve as a companion site for [my] book … and will feature snippets of interviews with activists, edited video footage documenting protests and performances, select music tracks, images, and analysis.

Deborah Durham: There is, in You Can’t Go to War, a kind of disappointment in the possibility of social movements in such situations of extreme inequality and, for many, lack of basic resources. Movements get routinized; high-level protests generate low-level disputes and tensions; South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world (in Gini coefficient) and, nationally, its infrastructure is increasingly failing everyone. How did Omotayo retain a sense of hope in the face of this?

Dorothy Hodgson: As anyone who met Tayo, even briefly, recognized: they were an extraordinarily smart and gifted person: an accomplished playwright, singer, and performer; a brilliant student and scholar; a compassionate, engaged ethnographer; and a joyful soul. Tayo’s fierce, joyous engagement with the world and search for hope and meaning was also tempered, at times, by despair: not just about the dire situation in South Africa, but the brutal violence of structural racism, sexism and homophobia in the United States that they witnessed and experienced as a queer person of color. Like many people, their despair was amplified by the uncertainties, restrictions, loneliness, and losses of the COVID pandemic.

In the face of these at-times overwhelming challenges, they used their gifts and skills to try to understand the deep disparities of the world and do what they could to bring change – whether through their writing, teaching, singing, yoga, or activism. And they were brave- defying convention at every turn. They actively sought embodied ways to heal, hope and change the world: through learning and excelling at capoeira, becoming certified as a yoga instructor and starting a yoga practice, and in 2020, at the height of racial justice protests amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, founding a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healing and collective recovery for multiple marginalized individuals and communities. Tayo was also an exceptional teacher and mentor, committed to educating new generations of scholar-activists through engaged, experiential forms of teaching and learning. In all these acts, they embodied hope. I think the dedication of the book sums up the source of their hope: “For our dead, not a moment’s silence, but a lifetime of struggle.”

Stephen Chrisomalis on his book, Reckonings

Interview by Grace East

Grace East:  Reckonings whisks us away on a journey through time and space and introduces us to how people engage(d) with numbers in a huge variety of socio-historical contexts. Put simply: you seem to ask, “How are numbers used and why?” Toward the end of the book, you provide a nicely crystallized sentiment that runs throughout the text: “I see numerals as representational systems, related to practices of literacy and writing, not as computational systems” (150). Can you elaborate on this central idea and discuss a few key takeaways you hope readers will leave with after finishing this book? 

Stephen Chrisomalis: I’ve been researching the anthropology of numbers for over twenty years now and one of the things that’s been most consistent is that, whenever I talk to people about my work, regardless of their discipline or theoretical orientation, they conflate numbers and math.  And as it turns out, a lot of anthropologists got into the field in order to run as far away from mathematics as possible.  Frankly anyone who has read anything I’ve ever written knows that my work requires much more knowledge of linguistics, semiotics, and philology than it does mathematics – which should make a whole different audience run in terror.  

There is a pervasive Euro-American ideology that almost values or privileges innumeracy, as stridently argued by the mathematician John Allen Paulos. This is seen in the sort of person who is vaguely proud of not being able to calculate a tip or manage daily finances.  I see that too. But I also see the corresponding ideology that numbers exist in this strange realm of mathematics, far removed from all other pursuits, only accessible to a special type of person. But in reality, numbers are everyday things, used by everyone to manage time, to make a list, or as any sort of label for things. In other words, they act as semiotic resources for managing practical socio-cognitive problems.  In Reckonings, I show that refocusing attention on what people actually do with the numbers they’ve got, rather than focusing on them as an object of awe, is absolutely imperative for a discipline like anthropology, that still avoids the subject of numbers to a large degree.

Grace East: The ways in which language universals and particulars appear cross-linguistically serve as a frequent touchstone throughout the text. You use numbers as a specific lens through which to observe the parameters of human cognition. What is it about numbers that provides such a fitting representation of the complicated nature of identifying language universals as well as cognitive affordances and constraints? 

Stephen Chrisomalis: Like a lot of people trained in linguistics in the 90s (and earlier), I could hardly escape the massive, almost hegemonic, Chomskyan view of linguistics, which regarded universals as widespread and grounded fully in the brain. Against this, in linguistic anthropology of course we had a more culturalist view, which regarded variation as the norm and universals, if present, as generally uninteresting.  Neither of these positions (extremes, even caricatures, of course) ever appealed much to me, but they were there nonetheless in the background.  

I began my work on numbers more than twenty years ago with the insight that number has two distinct sets of representations: number words (one two three) and number symbols (123), each of which occur very widely cross-culturally. And among users of numerical notation, the two systems co-occur in the same individuals. While each system has cross-linguistic and cross-cultural patterns, their patterns, structures, and regularities are not the same.  You can’t predict the structure of a numerical notation from its users’ languages.  Nevertheless, you can say a lot about what doesn’t occur in numerical notations; there are some powerful constraints, in other words. But these can’t come from a purported universal grammar, because they aren’t the same constraints that operate on linguistic numerals, and, frankly, because numerical notation isn’t a universal, but a product of specific social, technical, and historical contexts – largely those associated with the state.  

So where do these regularities come from, if not hard-wired (a bad metaphor, if commonplace)? The key is partly that numerical notations are visual notations rather than auditory ones; their (relative) permanence and their dependence on visual processing make them different than number words.  So the brain matters, but also it matters for what purposes and for what audiences writers are constructing these representations.  That takes us back to the insight that numbers are for being seen and read, more than they are being manipulated as arithmetical objects. Once we understand that, we can incorporate activity and behavior into our analysis of why the patterns and structures that exist are there, both in number words and number symbols.

Grace East: I really enjoyed your chapters seeking to uncover why we don’t regularly use Roman numerals anymore, I think because it felt like we were along for the ride on a historical mystery quest. In these sections, you explain that the decline of Roman numerals must be accounted for based not on a retrospective conception of their utility (or lack thereof) in comparison to Western numerals, but rather an acknowledgement of the “confluence of specific economic, social, and communicative factors,” such as the invention of the printing press and increasing literacy rates (116). What about this historical quandary compelled you to look deeper for an answer? How can the lessons learned from these findings be applied more broadly, both within anthropology and outside of it?

Stephen Chrisomalis: If I were to write an article and claim that Facebook is the best of all possible social media, I would be rightly laughed out of the academy. But the claim that our current (Indo-Arabic / Western) numerals 0123456789 are the best ones possible, and that they replaced Roman numerals in Europe through a sort of survival of the fittest, is so widespread that I would say that in some sense it is the central myth about numbers. It’s this still-vital vestige of unilinear evolutionism, deeply unquestioned and surely ethnocentric, that has retained its acceptability in otherwise serious historical and social-scientific work. 

But it also makes no sense to pretend like nothing happened at all over the last five hundred years, during which many, many numerical notations – not just the Roman numerals, but dozens of systems worldwide, have ceased to be used or are retained only for vestigial purposes.  Without fetishizing modernity or treating it as a special object of anthropology, I ask, in Reckonings, if the Roman numerals were so bad, why were they retained as long as they were, and why only in the 15th and 16th centuries did they lose this purported notational contest.  This builds on classic social science – think Immanuel Wallerstein or Eric Wolf – as well as discourse analysis on the ideologies underpinning the myth – in a way that I hope complements rather than challenges the cognitive approaches I use alongside them.  

So for instance, as it turns out, no one in Western Europe seems actually to have complained about the inefficiency of Roman numerals (at least not in writing) until the late 17th century – long after they had been replaced throughout the continent.  In fact, not until the 19th century did this kind of discourse become commonplace.  The Roman numerals were replaced quietly, slowly, not by imperial fiat or by some cabal of number experts, but through the transformations in education, commerce, and literacy that accompanied mercantile capitalism between 1400 – 1600.  That’s a time period – whether we call it late medieval or early modern, I don’t care – that precious few anthropologists devote much time or energy to, which I think is a serious mistake. 

Grace East: One of my favorite takeaways from this book is that numbers are not objective abstractions, but rather socially and historically contingent human inventions and practices. To this end,  I was particularly struck by the distinction you make between numerical recording (a final representation, like a written numeral) and numerical manipulation (the tools to do arithmetic, like an abacus). Can you talk more about how you arrived at the relationship between these and how it serves to impact our ideologies and biases around computation and cognition both diachronically and synchronically?

Stephen Chrisomalis: There’s a very famous story first told by the mathematician G.H. Hardy, about a visit to his ailing friend Srinivasa Ramanujan in the hospital.  Hardy, upon arriving, recounted that he had taken a taxicab whose number was 1729, which he thought was very boring, only to be told by Ramanujan that it was very interesting indeed – the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.  This anecdote was meant to impress the reader of  the impressive intellect of Ramanujan, and while it may do so, it should also illustrate that for almost everyone else, including most mathematicians, 1729 is just the number of the cab, and its purpose is semiotic – a label, a name for the cab, whose purpose is to distinguish it from all others.  It’s not that the rest of us aren’t doing anything with 1729 – it’s just that we aren’t computing with it.   

The linkage between written numbers and arithmetic is a historically contingent one, dependent on widespread literacy and formal education and a social system that relies heavily on recorded computation.  Most people historically who have had formal arithmetic education have separated the process of calculation – often with beads, boards, or other devices  from the writing of results.  There isn’t anything like Roman numeral ‘pen and paper’ calculation – although, for the record, I know of no fewer than five independent scholarly attempts over the past century to show how the Romans might have calculated using Roman numerals. But we know perfectly well how the Romans calculated – with the pebble-board abacus, just as the suan pan and soroban are still widely taught and used in China and Japan, respectively.  The use of material engagement through these devices is ideologized as backward, although there is considerable evidence in the cognitive science literature for the inscription of abacus arithmetic in East Asia into powerful mental models – that is, algorithms.  

What’s different about pen and paper is that your results (and your errors) have some permanence and can be scrutinized (by a teacher or supervisor), that makes it useful in a particular socioeconomic setting.   The form factor of pen and paper (or chalk and board) arithmetic produces not simply a result but a means to a result, a written record.  But in most historical settings, computation and recording have been separate activities, and so I want to make readers aware that this linkage is neither necessary nor inevitable.

Constantine Nakassis on his book, Onscreen/Offscreen

Interview by Chris Ball

Christopher Ball: Onscreen/Offscreen tracks Tamil film of the first decade and a half of the 2000s through analysis of different feature films, including interviews with actors, directors, and audience members, and ethnography of filmmaking and reception. This approach shows the intertextuality that ties together Tamil cinema, in spite of its own internal divisions between “class” and “mass,” “film” and “cinema.” At the same time, Chapters 1 to 4 deal, in turn, with the narrative figures “the hero,” “the heroine,” “the fool/jester,” and lastly “the auteur/director.” Can you say something about how as an author you discerned the presentation of your analysis and your interaction with, and presentation of, these characters?

Constantine V. Nakassis: Thanks for this question, Chris and for engaging with the book! This book is based on my work on the Tamil cinema of South India dating back to my very first fieldwork as a graduate student almost twenty years ago. But I didn’t want to write an ethnography of the industry per se. Rather, I had certain theoretical issues – for example, about the ontology of the image, its performativity, about spectatorship, the production format of images, realism – that I wanted to explore and elaborate on in each chapter of the book via the ethnographic analysis of a particular film or set of films. I also think having worked on Tamil cinema for an extended time gave me a longitudinal perspective that was invaluable in shaping how the book developed and how I came to think about its internal organization. From my first work in the early and mid 2000s to my dissertation work in the late 2000s to post-PhD work in the 2010s, I repeatedly encountered claims and desires for a “new” realist (“class”) cinema – and the announcement that it had (almost!) arrived – coupled with a lament about the untimely performativity of fantastical images of the industry’s larger-than-life “mass” heroes; as I came to realize, this ambivalence was a constitutive feature of the political field of images, despite whatever real changes there were across this time period (and before). Why and to what effects?

This question helped frame the book, specifically splitting it into two parts: the first (“Presence/Representation”) primarily concerning the presence of images and the second (“Representation/Presence”) their representationality. Each of those two parts then split into two chapters: Chapter 1 focusing on the performative presence of images of so-called mass heroes and Chapter 2 of heroines and dancers (whose presence manifests as a kind of negative, sexualizing stigma), and Chapters 3 and 4 focusing on attempts in the industry to create representationalist images, either in the mode of parody (of heroes) or realist, director-anchored films. But if Part I focuses on the insistent presence of the image, and how this traverses onscreen and offscreen (the image spilling beyond the screen, but also the social getting introjected into the film text), each of the cases also feature a countermovement, where such images get framed representationally by their directors, causing an interesting kind of friction internal to the image. Part II, by contrast, explores how filmmakers and other stakeholders to the image attempt to bracket and denude the image’s performativity, often by putting the hero under (narrative) erasure. But even in doing so, a certain kind of performativity bubbles through the citational frame. How is that managed? And to what ends?

While I didn’t know that the book would take this form when I was doing my fieldwork, I did know that there were certain incidents, or films, or industry dynamics that came up in my research that I wanted to understand and unpack: like in what became Chapter 1, where a slap in a film scene caused an uproar among fans because it involved a junior actor playing a character who slaps another character played by a huge hero-star, Ajith Kumar; or, in Chapter 3, the first full-on spoof in the industry, Thamizh Padam (‘Tamil Film’) or, in Chapter 4, the outcrop of small-budget “realist” films in the 2000s; or, in Chapter 2, the fact that most heroine-actresses in postmillennial Tamil cinema are not considered ethnolinguistically Tamil. As I worked through these various incidents and films and dynamics, I saw how they spoke to certain theoretical issues that I kept circling around; in particular, this issue of representationality and performativity. 

This had another effect, which is that certain characters – the hero, heroine, the comedian, the director – came to the fore in each chapter. This wasn’t by design, but it had to do with the fact that each of these characters is a critical node on which semiotic dynamics/achievements like representationality/performativity are themselves reflexively centered in the Tamil cinema: the hero and heroine as sites of (positive and negative) plenitude and performative presence, the comedian as piercing that plenitude with parodic self-reflexive humor, and the director as an alternate site of authority over filmic and cinematic semiosis. Here, too, emerged something else that became a central preoccupation of the book, the question of who or what is responsible for the image (a Goffmanian question of the politics of the production format). In certain moments we see the actors – those animating heroes and heroines and comedians – held responsible for the images in which they appear (as presencing them in some way); but at other moments, it is the opposite, where the director holds the burden for the image (as representing their vision or agenda or whatever). So how and when does one or the other (or both or neither) happen? And what follows from this? 

Chris Ball: As you were just saying, the play of representation and performativity is a central theme of Onscreen/Offscreen. In attempting to bring together linguistic anthropology and film studies, you wade into territory that is often characterized by a rejection of “linguistic” or “representationalist” accounts of filmic or other image texts. How did the framing of realist representation and performative presence as distinct but connected, indeed complexing mutually implicating, allow you to reframe such divisions or disciplinary impasses?

Constantine V. Nakassis: Yeah, it’s true that American cinema and media studies, but also visual and media anthropology, often pit “language” (or “representation”) and “image” against each other; and along this axis of difference (as Susan Gal and Judy Irvine put it) a whole host of other contrasts cluster: logic/affect, mediated/immediate, aural/visual, sensuous/abstract, and so on and so forth. In film studies, I think that this had to do with the limits and failures of structuralism, which invested so deeply in the notion of a “film language.” There is something so ironic in this, of course, since what such structuralisms-beyond-language did was to take what is unique about language and then ask how it could be used to illuminate other semiotic systems. But the whole thing was bound to fail, definitionally! In film studies, scholars like Christian Metz realized this contradiction at the very outset, but they gave it a try anyway and working through the failures pushed into new territory (for example, by coming to think with Benveniste on enunciation) that interestingly resonated with what was going on in linguistic anthropology (not that anyone realized this at the time, since they weren’t reading each other’s work).

In any case, and by contrast, in the US, this failure became a reason to throw the semiotic baby out with the semiological bathwater. But for me, the very division of image versus language is misguided from the outset; it’s a semiotic ideology, as Webb Keane calls it. The more interesting move, it seems to me, is to treat semiotic ideologies (like this one) as ethnographic components of how people experience semiosis, and thus how semiosis itself unfolds. If seen in this way, then we can start to ask, well, how and under what conditions does a film image represent and seem to stand apart from what it represents? And when does it performatively presence and act? When does the image seem to reach through the screen into the events of its happening and presence itself? And when is that possibility blocked, and the image and screen are kept “within” themselves via some proverbial fourth wall? Tamil cinema is rife with these performative perforations; but it’s also filled with realist representations too! And my point in the book is that an image isn’t necessarily one or the other but may be one or the other depending on the point of view, or maybe both at one and the same time, or at different times, and so on and so forth. And here is where things get interesting for me. Because what I found in the cases I looked at is that the image harbors both potentialities and tendencies, each brimming out of the screen, each in dialogue with the other, sometimes amplifying, sometimes dampening each other. So, there is a tussle and a multiplicity – a dialogism, indeed, a politics (and in the Tamil case, where actors often form populist political parties, a real electoral politics) – internal to the image. Yet when we try to study this, we realize that whatever is “inside” the image is the effect of semiotic processes (of entextualization and contextualization, in our technical jargon) that take place in a sort of constitutive “outside” to the image.

And this raised a further question for me: what kind of a thing is an image such that this is the case? And if this “is” – a question of “ontology” – is political, which it is (claims about “what is”are THE site of the political, aren’t they?!), then these semiotic questions take us directly into what I discuss in the book as an “ontological politics of the image.” Hence, to return to your question (sorry for the long tangent!), the book tries to provide a way thinking about cinema that allows us to get beyond the stale oppositions of image versus language, or of “film language.” Hopefully, this will resonate with folks in film and visual studies, and put them in touch with linguistic anthropology, and vice versa. It always struck me as a shame that there hasn’t been any meaningful traffic between these fields (since, at least, Sol Worth and Christian Metz), especially since both deal with the most complex of problems of meaning and each has developed incredibly sophisticated semiotic approaches to them. The book is trying to create that dialogue.

Chris Ball: I’d like to ask more about your concept of the “ontological politics of the image” and its potential links to debates in anthropology at large. You introduce the concept in the Introduction by questioning the givenness of the image as object, and by suggesting a pragmatic approach to the multiplicity of the image’s construction in varying sociohistorical and cultural contexts. The cross-cultural stability of the image, if we can hold on to something concrete, lies in its existence as a “political fact,” such that for filmmakers, critics, and viewers alike, in Chicago or Madurai, “Contestations about what an image is, is the very nature of images.” 

Constantine V. Nakassis: Right, exactly, and this connects up with what we were just talking about, this question of whether and when an image is a performative act or a realist representation; these, of course, are just two very simplified ways of talking about the heterogenous being of images; as we were saying, they are dimensions or potentialities or tendencies that get actualized in particular contexts in particular ways. And if such actualization is up for grabs, as I found it to be, then we need to be attending to the “ontological politics” (this being Annemarie Mol’s phrase) that condition the being and becoming of images. This, it seems to me, is the nature of images as we find them: stakeholders to images (makers, audiences, various institutions, including various organs the state; in India, e.g., the Censor Board) contest and shape what images come to be, what they should (or should not) be, and so on. So, there is a kind of semiotic relativity at the heart of the question of being. And this itself requires that we take a particular ontological position, a semiotic realism (as you yourself have argued in other contexts) that insists on the reality of generals – in this case, semiotic-cum-social facts – but sees them as (the outcomes of) dynamic processes. 

Chris Ball: So how does your approach to the contested construction of images and the possible multiplicity of their ontological status connect to wider trends in anthropological theory? I’m thinking about the Ontological Turn, obviously, but also about the general (post-)post-structuralist, post-colonial, post-modern, post-human, and so on, engagements with multiplicity, fractures, and frictions between worlds? What is your stake with this book in such conversations?

CVN: In this book, much more so than those trends in anthropological theory (e.g., the Ontological Turn), my discussion is in a direct conversation with the foundational film critic and theorist André Bazin and his “ontology of the photographic image.” This has and continues to be a central issue in film studies. So, my aim, in addressing the question of what an image is, is to reformulate the question of being through a pragmatist approach to semiosis, but also with attention to the open horizons of possibility, and relativity, as I was saying before, that ethnographic theory at its best can provide. To do so, then, I am thinking with, but also against, Bazin to ask, how can we reconceptualize the so-called “ontology of the photographic image” processually and ethnographically, from a disciplinary perch (linguistic anthropology) and empirical archive (commercial Tamil cinema) that has been very peripheral to these discussions? 

Of course, the so-called Ontological Turn, among other movements in anthropology, has also tried to decenter certain philosophical positions that also animate the (Bazinian) questions in film studies (i.e., there are common touchstones). And insofar as this is the case, there is a resonance there. (And, certainly, my uptake of Mol’s phrase also connects this work to actor network theory and Latour, if indirectly.) But there are also major differences between what I am doing and the Ontological Turn. For example, there is a kind of relativism in the Ontological Turn that I find problematic. And, as you’ve pointed out in a recent paper at the 2022 AAAs, (semiotic) relativity is not the same as (cultural/ontological) relativism. In fact, a comparative account of the relativity of languages or images (or physical processes, for that matter) demonstrates that there are general properties that undercut the strong relativism in certain versions of the Ontological Turn. Indeed, the fact of the multiple ontic tendencies within images that we were discussing a moment ago implies a set of processes that traverse “worlds” or what not; as I argue in the book, it implies a politics of being that produces that very ontic multiplicity.

It’s worth underlining that an ontology is an account or theory (-logy) of being (ōn, ont-); it is a claim on being. And to say an account – or theory or claim – is to imply a plurality (hence the political aspect!): ontologies and modes of being (in a dialectical relation, of course). But it’s a mistake, in my opinion, to think that for every “world” (or every “culture” or “epoch”) there an ontology (or “worldview”), or that for every medium there is a different mode of being, like analogue versus digital images, as some people have suggested in visual studies. And again, this is because the multiplicity of being is intrinsic or internal, and yet also distributed, extimate. It’s not a pluralism, and that’s because being is a dynamic political fact. 

Another implication of this is that while this book is about the Tamil cinema of South India, with a real serious consideration of its particularities, ultimately through theorizing those particularities the story is about much broader features, relations, and processes of images (and semiosis more generally), whether in film or otherwise, whether in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere. 

Chris Ball: You talk about realism throughout the book but approach it most directly in Chapter 4. You end up mostly agreeing with Bazin on cinematic realism, though you qualify that it is not because of an indexical trace of light between reality and (celluloid) film, but rather because the connection to the real is political. Realism is an achievement, an effect rather than a cause in this formulation. I’m struck by the similarity of this move to that which linguistic anthropology has been articulating with respect to language for a long time. Rather than starting with the assumption of language as an ontological object that is given, analysts have turned increasingly to articulate how multimodal communicative practices and their politics, together with their (metapragmatic) frames of interpretation, effectively yield familiar domains we label as grammar, or discourse, or language writ large. Does that analogy make sense, and did you think about that sort of cross modal iconicity, either taking a set of analytic tools from one domain such as linguistic anthropology to another like film studies, or claiming that language and image are after all similar, in writing the book?

Constantine V. Nakassis: Yes, it definitely makes sense! I am a linguistic anthropologist and Onscreen/Offscreen is a book of linguistic anthropology. In the book I call this a “linguistic anthropology of cinema,” and some amount of discussion is devoted to explaining what that phrase means. So, in one sense, I am treating cinema in ways similar to how linguistic anthropologists have approached “language,” and precisely how you characterize it. Part of what that means is transferring advances and tools made in one domain (“language”/discourse) to another (film/cinema). 

But I’m not sure if we should see this as an analogy, as if cinema was like language (or discourse), and thus one can extend linguistic anthropology outwards, as if its center was always and only language. Part of my discomfort with this way of stating it is that I don’t see my work as an application of linguistic anthropological tools to something else that is not proper to the field, as much as I see this as linguistic anthropology, period. And part of the reason I insist on this is because to not so insist (and to take the book as an application) would reinscribe a certain center of linguistic anthropology as the study of “language” “in” …, and then you can fill in the blank with all those substantives that we are familiar with (“culture,” “society,” “interaction,” “use/practice,” or whatever). Doing this recapitulates a picture of language—a formalist, referentialist, structuralist vision of language as autonomous, sui generis “system”—that the very move of adding the “in culture/society/interaction” is meant to deconstruct! So, part of what I try to show in Onscreen/Offscreen, and in other work, is why this is ultimately an unproductive gesture. Of course, it’s not untrue historically, since much of the field has been concerned with language in culture, society, and so on. But, as I’ve tried to argue, even when this seems to be the case, what we are studying in such cases is not language as such, but rather the limits of the very construct of language to capture semiosis in (and across) its contexts of happening; and further, that by pushing through language we open up all sorts of interesting horizons beyond where we started. And those horizons are what ground us (even if we always start from where we came). Hence my claim that Onscreen/Offscreen is a book of linguistic anthropology even though – and maybe especially because – what I am focused on is cinema (and not language, or speech, in films). 

But interestingly, what this also means is that this is a book that is not only about cinema. Rather, as you point out, and as I was saying earlier, it is trying to get at certain semiotic dynamics that are not medium-specific. I have come to realize that thinking in terms of medium specificity is a cul-de-sac. It is, at best, self-limiting and, at worst, reductive and essentialist. It may be productive for disciplinary political projects (to zone off some domain of study, say, language for linguistics, film for film studies, and so on and so forth), but intellectually it narrows thought. So I am absolutely not interested in purifying the (film) image and trying to define its uniqueness, or definitional specificity. That would just reproduce the very problematic, blinkered mode of inquiry that linguistic anthropology, in its critique of that very form of thinking as concerns language (focusing on what makes it peculiar and unique: its essence as a system for denotation), has rendered unstable and untenable. So, in moving outwards from the yoke of language to images, my aim is not to suggest that we rest there and call it a day. Rather, I would endorse Peirce’s metaphor for scientific inquiry as walking through a bog. We must plant our feet somewhere, but only to always have to pick up and move, for if we stand content too long in one place, we sink. We have to move forward and explore, in this case, looking for what traverses what has been categorized as film and language. Now, I don’t mean to collapse each to the other, or to deny that there may be specificities; rather, my aim is to open up a clearing for thought in ways that propel us forward and make connections with other fields. 

For me, this general attitude toward inquiry implies an open vision for the field, for a linguistic anthropology of …, where that ellipsis is to be filled with as many possible possessors of the genitive that we can find, from cinema to spam filters to painting to ethics to cryptocurrency to … . It can all be linguistic anthropology. And it is: our wonderful colleagues are already pursuing all these things and more! So, that ellipsis is an invitation for us to open up and for others to find their way in. From my point of view, we should be pitching a big tent, not policing the borders or redoubling on the centers. This book is an effort to that end. 

Onscreen/Offscreen is open access and available here.

Lindsey Clouse on her book, Stigmatized on Screen

Interview by Jeremy A. Rud

Jeremy Rud: Linguists have long called out the language attitudes that perpetuate the myth that racialized, regional, and gendered dialects are supposedly bad English. What does your book add to this discussion? How does your work expand or complicate our understanding of English language variation in the United States?

Lindsey Clouse: My research shows how deeply entrenched these language attitudes are in popular culture, and how they, in fact, have become shortcuts for characterization in film. If a character speaks with a stereotypical blue collar Southern dialect, for instance, it signals to the audience that this character is uneducated and probably racist and/or misogynist. We see an example of this in Four Christmases (2008), in which the main character’s father and brothers are loud, drunk, and misogynist, and all speak blue collar Southern dialects despite the film taking place in San Francisco. The main character himself is smart and likable and, naturally, speaks so-called standard English. And because the U.S. is still very segregated, many Americans are exposed to these stigmatized dialects primarily or exclusively through the media they consume, so it’s no surprise that these language attitudes persist when mainstream film is perpetuating them constantly.

It’s also important to note that the dialects we hear in movies are not, for the most part, true to life. Instead, Hollywood has created mediated versions of these dialects that draw upon their most well-known features, a process known as iconization. The movie version of Black English, for instance, tends to overuse features like habitual be (as in “He be late,” meaning “He is frequently late,” not “He is late right now”) and omit features like questions with no subject-auxiliary inversion (as in “What that is?”). Thus the Hollywood version of Black English doesn’t represent real speech particularly well, though most non-Black audiences perceive it as authentic.

Jeremy Rud: After systematically analyzing nearly 500 films, yet devoting individual chapters to only five dialect groups, what conclusions can you draw about intersectionality from the data set? What is the relationship between visual and oral/aural representations of diversity in contemporary American film?

Lindsey Clouse: First, although improvements are slowly being made, Hollywood still has a serious diversity problem. In the 493 films I examined, women make up less than a quarter of protagonists, Black women make up only 1.4% of protagonists, and Latinx characters make up only 1.5%. And perhaps even more concerningly, there are no queer protagonists at all. And these are the top-grossing films of the last 20 years—the films that are getting seen by the most moviegoers. The stories that Hollywood is telling are still by and large the stories of White, cishet men. Characters with intersectional identities are almost nonexistent in the most popular films and when they do appear, they rarely have major roles.

Some films do make obvious efforts to include visual diversity, but linguistic diversity is completely absent. Shazam! (2019), for instance, features a diverse coalition of orphans-turned-superheroes (though the protagonist is an able-bodied White male), yet these low-income inner-city kids all somehow speak “standard” English. We see something similar in The Matrix franchise and a number of other big-budget franchises including, I’m sad to say, Star Trek.

Speaking a stigmatized dialect will relegate you to a very narrowly defined set of roles in film. Black English, for example, is used almost exclusively by comedic and criminal characters and minor characters with small parts. Will Smith code-switches into Black English to deliver jokes in films like the Men in Black and Bad Boys franchises, and when playing a criminal in films such as Suicide Squad (2016), but uses “standard” English for serious roles such as I Am Legend (2007) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). With very few exceptions, Hollywood simply does not allow serious protagonists or even serious secondary characters to use stigmatized dialects.

Jeremy Rud: What was one unexpected result of your analysis? What most shocked, surprised, or inspired you? Considering each film’s linguistic representations of minorities, what films do you now appreciate more and what films soured on you and why?

Lindsey Clouse: I was expecting stereotypes to be present in the data, but I was surprised by just how prevalent they turned out to be. For instance, almost a quarter of Spanish-accented and Spanish-influenced English speakers in the filmset are inmates, ex-cons, or criminals. I was also caught off guard by the link between grammar and morality in White Southern speakers. White Southern-speaking characters who use “nonstandard” grammar features are almost twice as likely to be bad people in their films, to engage in unambiguously immoral behaviors like murder, rape, adultery, and so on without showing remorse or being redeemed. And this is a trope separate from the stereotypically racist Southern character; White Southern speakers who use supposedly nonstandard grammar are only slightly more likely to be racist than those who use the grammar of the dominant culture.

I was also pretty horrified by the amount of blackvoice and other kinds of mockery that show up in these films. Mainstream Hollywood clearly still considers it acceptable for White standard speakers to use mock versions of stigmatized accents and dialects to mock or harass those speakers or simply to make jokes or elicit a laugh. The Other Guys (2010) contains several scenes in which Will Ferrell’s character flashes back to the time he spent working as a pimp in college, and in these flashbacks he uses Mock Black English, because the stereotype of the pimp is that of a flamboyant Black man, and filmmakers apparently consider it funny to see this White man behave in this way.

There is also a running gag in a series of Adam Sandler films in which Rob Schneider plays a character of another race—East Asian, South Asian, indigenous Hawai’ian, indigenous North American—complete with yellowface or brownface make-up and a correspondingly exaggerated accent and stereotypical characterization. For instance, his indigenous Hawai’ian character, Ula of 50 First Dates (2004), is constantly drunk or high, has numerous children, and is riddled with injuries and scars from his absurd and buffoonish behavior, and his accented English is peppered with gibberish that is meant to represent the Hawai’ian language. Characters like this are shockingly common in the filmset.

I’ve developed a lot of appreciation for those filmmakers who pay attention to language and use it in thoughtful ways. So many filmmakers rely on these stale and inaccurate tropes: White Southern speakers are taken to be backward rednecks; women who use gendered speech patterns are vapid and self-absorbed; Spanish speakers are either drug dealers or maids; and so on. After seeing hundreds of examples like this, those films that subvert the tropes or that use language for more subtle and interesting types of characterization really stand out. Legally Blonde (2001) and Freaky Friday (2003) come to mind as examples that defy the tropes about gendered speech patterns. Straight Outta Compton (2015) is the rare film in which a majority of characters use Black English both authentically and consistently. And over 13% of total Spanish and Spanish-accented English speakers in the entire filmset appear in one film, Coco (2017), which actually presents a rich diversity of characterization of these speakers and is also just a beautiful, gorgeously animated film.

And of course I have to mention the filmography of Quentin Tarantino, who always makes interesting choices with language and who never goes for the easy joke. Django Unchained (2012) was the film that originally started me on this project; the character of Django may be the only serious Black English-speaking action hero in modern film, and the secondary hero, King Schultz, has a German accent—another total anomaly in American movies.

Jeremy Rud: Who should read this book? What do you want academics to take away? What do you want filmmakers to take away?

Lindsey Clouse: The book is designed to be accessible to non-linguists, so anyone with an interest in American English dialects and the unconscious biases that we attach to them should read it, as well as anyone who enjoys thinking critically about popular media.

I hope that academics will take away from this book that although we might think and talk about institutionalized prejudice and unconscious biases all the time, we might not notice the degree to which popular media are reinforcing these things, and they’re particularly easy for middle class White people to overlook. And you can point to a few recent films that have had some success, like Moonlight (2016) or Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) (both of which are incredible and you should watch them) and say, look, Hollywood is working on fixing its diversity and intersectionality problem. But then look at what’s playing at your local theater right now and you will still see a long list of films starring straight, White standard English speakers.

To any filmmakers who read this book, I would ask just that you think a little harder about language in your films. Just as the cishet White male doesn’t have to be the default, nor does supposedly standard English have to be the default. Ask yourself: what kinds of messages is my movie sending about people who speak a certain way? And, can I make a better and more interesting film by making more thoughtful, nuanced choices with language?

Elizabeth Ellcessor on her book, In Case of Emergency

Interview by Volha Verbilovich

New York University Press

Volha Verbilovich: Emergency media are cultural and temporal. In Case of Emergency develops these definitions, revealing the history and modern practices of emergency media use. Why did you choose this object of study?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: I wrote my first book [Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation, 2016] about digital media accessibility, particularly the legal and bureaucratic context for things like alternate text and accessible forms. I’ve written on closed captioning, the forms of accessibility that are fairly well known at this point, if not always implemented. But one thing I just totally left out of the book was that regulations for disability access are treated differently in emergency contexts than in normal media production. For instance, we don’t have sign language interpreters for pre-recorded hour-long dramas. However, we do have live sign language interpreters for something like a press conference about evacuation in the path of a hurricane. Right? When you have an emergency situation, the legal requirements shift. You have to have access at these moments. In my first book, I just put it in a footnote like “nothing I’m talking about applies to these other situations”. So, I had it in the back of my head anyway. One thing that really propelled it forward was when they started rolling out “text to 9-1-1 services”, initially in Vermont, and Indiana, where I was living at the time. What was interesting about that rollout was the way they promoted “text to 9-1-1” as primarily an accessibility feature. You can imagine lots of people wanting to use it, right? For example, young people who are more comfortable with text than voice calls. The ability to send a picture to 9-1-1 seems useful, the ability to send your location via text seems useful. But instead, we were seeing this real emphasis on treating text messages as if they were an assistive technology to replace phone calls. That raised many questions for me about how these lines between “access for some” versus “access for all” are being drawn. And also, how disability and accessibility were being used as, not exactly excuses, but as displacements, preventing the kinds of critiques of an emergency media system that is, in many cases, pretty far out of step with consumer technology. So, I started there with one specific case study. And I published that in the International Journal of Communication before the book. And then I just started digging into it. What are other sorts of emergency media out there? How are they technologically situated? And how does that reflect certain cultural assumptions about the way the world works?

Volha Verbilovich: Thank you very much for the rich overview of the different types of emergency media: alarms, alerts, maps, 9-1-1 calls, and reports, that was really amazing to read. Speaking about access as a category and an experience, what could ethnographers and other scholars learn from the disability studies’ accounts about access?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: I think disability studies perspectives on access, or what Aimi Hamraie describes as “critical access studies”, are interesting for a range of fields. I assume that treating access as a self-evident, good thing like “oh, we need to increase access to XYZ” which also often means everything will be sort of “solved” is a techno-solutionist perspective at the best of times. But it also fails to account for access as more than just having something. When we talk about access, we often need to be talking about skills and contexts. And that often gets left out if access is talked about at all. We have scholarship that often glosses over this experience of access entirely. Film studies, for instance, have traditions of scholarship in which we talk about spectatorship or reading the film without acknowledging that how we watch the film matters and that not everyone is watching it the same way. I think it opens the door to bigger conversations if we don’t take for granted that everyone is doing this task in one way. Then it becomes easier to ask questions: what does it encompass? what has to be there? what is sort of flexible? I think it opens a lot of interesting possibilities. Access is a moment where we really see just tremendous variation.

Volha Verbilovich: Considering the limitations of access, you speak a lot about the racialized discourses, sexism, and ableism of the emergency media. How do the different types of emergency media create these discourses? Could you mention the examples you address in the book?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: I’ll talk about one I didn’t expect to write about, which was maps. Maps weren’t something that I had in mind at the beginning. It came from doing the work and talking to people about what kinds of safety technologies they were using or were familiar with. And then thinking backward from that: “oh, a lot of people are using “find my phone” to see where their family members are. A lot of college students are using Snapchat to see where their friends are and make sure everyone gets home safe at night.” So, then I started thinking about other ways that we use maps to understand issues of safety and risk, which are tied into ideas of emergency. Talking about weather maps and COVID maps grew out of that. So, there are two other ways in which we use maps to understand whether or not we’re in an emergency situation and how does that kind of graphical representation of the world influence our decision-making?

One thing about what we could think of is the rise of maps in the GPS era, seeing maps used in all kinds of apps and safety features. Uber has something where you can now ask someone to watch your ride on a map, so they know if your Uber gets waylaid. These features are really interesting. They promote a kind of ubiquity that we should always know where something is, and we should always be able to double-check and have that information available. It actually has the effect of making the lack of information interpreted as a sign of danger or emergency. So, if you become accustomed to relying on these features, know where things are, what is happening, where your friends are, and who got home, and you suddenly don’t have that? It creates a really different emotional stake than we would have had 20 years ago, and no one had this information. My mother never knew where I was at college! And it didn’t worry her because that wasn’t a sign of potential danger. But when we interviewed current college students, many of their parents are using maps to see where they are and to ensure they are okay. And when they can’t or are not where they’re supposed to be, they get phone calls because parents worry. It’s a really different mediation of risk and danger that I don’t think was on my radar before this.

Volha Verbilovich: In the book, you address the surveillance of care as a category that describes these developments. And you also reflect on the infrastructural media activism practices. To what extent do you think the infrastructural media activism could mitigate data-driven surveillance of care?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: I think that there’s a way in which we equate surveillance with care. Thinking through intentional ways to care about people in our lives without subjecting them to constant surveillance is something that we can do. And I give the example of college students seeking their friends on Snapchat. Some don’t do that, and they only text each other at a set time. So, they have moments of contact but not constant tracking. It also cuts out, in many cases, the third-party technologies that are doing the mapping and tracking. Rather than hand over your location data to Snapchat, you’re texting your friend: “I will text you at 1 am, letting you know”. So, you have some intentional moments like that. And then you also have people who are, in some cases, using mapping to highlight other kinds of needs and emergencies, taking this representational system that we’ve come to understand, and using it to map things like safe spaces, trans bathrooms, housing markets. I saw one project essentially based on the idea that the emergency was not simply COVID; the emergency was the housing crisis as rents were raised and people were struggling. Therefore, they had mapping of average rents and changes in rents in various locations as a way of signaling that something was happening. So, here’s the map that will produce some of that effect of emergency and maybe draw attention to an issue.

Volha Verbilovich: One of the key findings of your research is that emergency and emergency media are fundamentally racialized. To what extent is this argument specific to the United States cultural context?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: It’s a good question! I’m very much an Americanist. So, I certainly know the US context best. And I do think that some elements are specific to US history and the way that the legacies of slavery impact the legacies of the prison system and impact the way that we think about emergency and policing. These things are all part of the same story. I would be surprised if you don’t see similar historical dynamics playing out in other countries. The various racial or ethnic divides might look different, but I think you do see a similar kind of valuation at play in a discourse of emergency where some people are constructed as the core of the nation and the most valuable, and some people are not, whether that is a matter of ethnic minorities or immigrants or both. People who are intended to be protected by emergency systems are often those who are most privileged and centered within the given context. I use my colleague Jennifer Rubenstein’s definition of emergency in the book pretty heavily. She is a political scientist who studies international development and peacekeeping. She was writing about the emergency in the context of global human rights violations and how, in those moments, receiving aid becomes a matter of being intelligible to the institutions that provide that aid. So if you want to look into that in a more detailed way, I would absolutely recommend her work as a jumping-off point to very different contexts.

Volha Verbilovich: What was the most challenging part of doing emergency media research? How did you find ways to fix those challenges or take a lesson from them?

Elizabeth Ellcessor: I think my biggest challenge in this project was, honestly, the scope. It could have been about many different things. And it is, like you mentioned, full of many different examples. I was trying to pull together something that was broader than a simple case study. And that addressed a lot of common-sense things that people would expect from a book about the emergency. So, I wanted to ensure that some of the things that we all, in a US context, expect to be there were there while still being able to include interviews with users of these systems, with workers. We didn’t get to talk a lot about this. But I find that talking to people who work in emergency media was central to my understanding of how it functions, whether those were 9-1-1 operators, emergency managers, or scholars of disaster. Focusing on how people who are “in the weeds” with this understand it, versus how a broader culture understands it, was very helpful in finding key dynamics and pressure points. I’m obviously situated in media studies, so I’m going to write a book about media. But a crucial part of the book for me was coming to understand that media are literally mediating the circumstances between the emergency and the resources at stake. And in that process, the media systems become a kind of pressure point, they become a place where small changes have big effects and where the agency of workers can actually also have big effects. On the one hand, it should lead us to value their work, and, on the other hand, it should lead us to think more intentionally than we often do about what those jobs are, who is doing them, and how they’re valued or not valued, and how they are being changed. As we see AI technologies brought into these systems, what are we losing when we lose that expertise?

Carl Rommel on his book, Egypt’s Football Revolution

Interview by Jessica Winegar

Jessica Winegar: The study of sports has been somewhat marginal in the field of anthropology. Why do you think that is, and in what ways does your book show its importance to understanding major social events such as revolutions?

Carl Rommel: This is an intriguing question, because in many ways, sports is really a total social fact. Huge spectator sports, such as football (soccer), bring together a range of sociocultural spheres, including economy, ritual, performance, religion, emotion, gender, global media, mega events, and politics. Still, with the exception of a small number of recent works (such as, Guinness & Besnier 2016, Kovač 2022, Carter 2008), sports has indeed been marginal in the field of anthropology.

Now, I am not exactly sure about the reasons for this marginalization, but I have a few ideas. First, I think that spectator sports for a long time came across as too modern to a discipline primarily interested in the primitive and exotic. Hence, while Clifford Geertz went to thickly describe the local practice of cock fighting on Java (1973), it was left to sociologists to analyze spectator sports as an exceptional realm of excitement in bureaucratically organized western societies (Dunning & Elias 1986). More recently, as ostensibly modern social phenomena such as mass media, science, and development have been made central foci of anthropological exploration, sports might instead have looked too ordinary: a popular pastime for the masses without any true epistemological or aesthetic depth. I would also not rule out a measure of latent snobbism. At least in some contexts that I know, academics self-identify as ‘people who don’t like sports.’ Anthropologists with such opinions might not only opt to research more supposedly worthy topics. They also do not possess the background knowledge necessary to penetrate the world that a huge spectator sport assembles. To be able to properly discuss the game with one’s interlocutors, one needs to master information about a large corpus of players, coaches, clubs, matches, and tournaments. While that is no easy task for any anthropologist taking on a whole new sports universe (as I did in Egypt), it is likely even more daunting for a scholar who is not a sports person in the first place.

As for the second part of your question, I think that my book shows that sports can provide unique anthropological angles on a revolution’s who, when, where, and what. First, my story about Egypt’s Football Revolution introduces a completely new cast of revolutionary characters: television pundits, players and coaches, club officials, representatives of the football association, and more or less organized supporters. Second, my study of football gives the revolution an alternative timeline. It shows how supposedly non-political football events (matches, tournaments, television talk shows) constituted key moments in a revolutionary transition that began to take shape already before January 25, 2011. Third, my story recasts the revolution’s spatiality: the football revolution that I chronicle took place at stadiums, in television studios, and in coffee shops just as much as in Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Parliament, or the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. This shift of focus, finally, provides an alternative account for what the revolutionary struggle was all about. I analyze the revolution first and foremost as a contest over how Egyptian football men – and Egyptian men more generally – should feel, act, and behave. My ethnography of the world of football recasts the revolution as a revolt that set out to transform emotions, masculinities, and ultimately the Egyptian nation.

Jessica Winegar: Taking football seriously has indeed given us a better understanding of the depth and breadth of the revolutionary process in Egypt, and the important ways that this process was gendered through notions of masculinity as related to politics and nation. I would love to hear you riff on how these insights from football in Egypt could be useful to those studying protests and revolutions of the past 15 years – which have seen an intensification of such political action worldwide.

Carl Rommel: I’d like to answer this question by returning to the revolution’s who, when, where, and what. The way my book suggests alterative answers to these questions could arguably be useful in other settings ripe with protests and revolt too. Because, a truly revolutionary situation is never merely a moment when activists raise demands limited to representational politics and try to push them through the vested institutions of the nation-state. When studied carefully, a revolution always reverberates in spaces that might look somewhat marginal, and through events that both precede and succeed canonized timelines. You might also find actors who may not come across as political at first glance, but who are actually key players. And you might identify a revolutionary battle over whom the taken-for-granted and normal we are or should be. In my Egyptian case, this contested normal we was a national and gendered we. Football provided a central stage for carving out normal Egyptian masculinities before, during, and after the 2011 Revolution. In other situations, the established we that the revolt has to take on could just as well be a classed or racialized we. For instance, who is the normal and white middle-class woman?

What my research illustrates – and what could be useful to consider elsewhere – is that processes that define who are normal and who are not are complex and a long time coming. Normalized subjectivities surface at the intersection of media, popular culture, spectacle, investments, legislation, and more. For a revolt to be truly revolutionary, it has to provide alternatives to such entrenched scripts. My ethnography illustrates both how and why this is possible and why it is difficult to pull off. Because processes of subjectivation are long-term and multidimensional, they take on an inertia that is difficult to fully obliterate. The counterrevolution is always likely to gain momentum from never fully eradicated ideals for how to be, feel, and behave normally. In Egypt, as elsewhere, revolutions are fragile projects, and they most often fail. One reason is that they are up against potent powers vested in distributed assemblages of institutions, discourses, ethics, pop culture, and media technologies.

Jessica Winegar: Do you think that fun can be a revolutionary practice? What would your soccer fans have said at the time, and what would they say now?

Carl Rommel: Oh yes, absolutely, this is one of the central arguments that I make in the chapters that deal with Egypt’s so called Ultras supporters. The Ultras were a new type of football fans who started to appear at Egyptian stadiums in 2007. Inspired by Ultras groups in North Africa and southern Europe, they introduced a new style of fandom that grew influential in the years leading up to January 2011. As the ethnographic research that I conducted with the Ultras shows, the new fan groups’ success was to a large extend a result of the fun and freedom that they generated in the stands. Through bold chants, flags, choreographed displays, graffiti, and firework, their novel way of supporting their teams attracted tens of thousands of young men. Almost immediately, this subculture was spotlighted as a security threat by the Egyptian police. Consequently, the Ultras found themselves forced to confront the security forces and defend their right to do their thing – that is, having fun in their own way – inside and outside the stadium. In 2011 and 2012, this experience of taking on the security state through organized violence proved vital for the revolutionary struggle. The Ultras’ subculture of fun and freedom became a central force in clashes and street fights.

But the Ultras new way of having fun was also subversive for another reason. As I discuss in the book’s first two chapters, Egyptian football had constituted a realm of fun also before the Ultras entered the scene. To make a long story short, Egyptian football experienced an unprecedented boom in the late 2000s. Fueled by victories, media, and popular culture, the nation was swept away by a football craze that was mobilized successfully by the Mubarak government in a pretty classic bread-and-circuses manner. Rather than a fight for or against fun, therefore, the revolution inside Egypt’s national game was at the heart a conflict between two different ways of having fun: one older, media-driven and closely related to the political and economic establishment; one younger, more international, and vehemently opposed to the media. As such, while my book demonstrates that fun can be a revolutionary force, it also shows that fun is not revolutionary by default. Football’s unmatched ability to generate fun could just as well be reactionary. It all depends on the context, and how the fun is mobilized and by whom.

As for what Ultras would say about this today, it is difficult to know as the supporter groups are currently in disarray. In the years since the 2013 Military Coup, the Ultras (like most revolutionary groups in Egypt) have been crushed by the counterrevolution. Many leaders are or have been in prison. Others live abroad. While Egypt’s biggest group, Ultras Ahlawy, was formally dissolved in 2018, other groups still exist, but their activities are scattered. When talking to (former) Ultras today, they tend to look back at the revolutionary years with a great deal of nostalgia. They tell me about a period when they had an incredible amount of fun at the stadium. And they tell stories about demonstrations, clashes and sit-ins that all but revolutionized Egypt. Whether Ultras connect these stories about fun and revolution, I am not sure. Possibly such an analysis is more exciting for an anthropologist than for the people who live the (counter-) revolution’s twists and turns. Still, everyone knows that one reason for why their revolution was crushed is that the regime has banned fans at most Egyptian football games over the last ten years. As a result, it has been impossible to keep generating fun at the stadium. And without fun, there has been no way to recruit new members, and hence no way to keep the revolutionary momentum going.

Jessica Winegar: And it is hard to keep revolutionary momentum going within the straitjacket of proper nationalism that requires a kind of seemingly apolitical stance. I think readers would be especially interested in your argument about that bind in the book, in part because I see it playing out in other contexts. Can you briefly recap that central theoretical point?

Carl Rommel: So, the notion of siyasa (politics in Arabic) pops up in several chapters in the book. Overall, I show that while siyasa comes with many different connotations for my interlocutors, it almost always elicits a sense of unease. One reason is a long-standing tension between siyasa and idealized notions of Egyptian nationalism. To put it brief and simple, we might say that whereas a true nationalist works for the common interests of the whole people, being political (siyasi) by definition means serving partial group interests at the expense of some other citizens. Since the foundation of the Egyptian nationalist movement in the late 19th century, therefore, nationalism and siyasa have been understood as inherently antithetical. One telling example is the way nationalist leaders, such as President Gamal Abdel Nasser, have strived to appear non-political (Roussillon 1996).

Being Egypt’s indisputably national game, football is a realm where this tension is particularly recognizable. In my book’s chronology, it surfaces for the first time in the wake of two World Cup qualifiers between Egypt and Algeria in November 2009. I portray these matches as the culmination of the football hysteria permeating late-Mubarak Egypt. This was both the moment when the regime used football most actively to shore up support and the time when things began to crack. After Egypt lost the second game and missed the 2010 World Cup, criticism against the sport’s ‘politicization’ proliferated. Instead of bringing people together, commentators argued that the national game was breeding fanaticism and politics. After January 2011, such ideas became even more commonplace. Football now looked like the cause of a range of problems grouped together under the rubric of siyasa. In the final chapters, I examine ethnographically how these debates impacted on supporter attachments. As the national game became mixed up with politics, many Egyptian men found it increasingly difficult to care about it.

Tensions between siyasa and nationalism play a key role in my story of the Ultras too. Journalists, club officials and people in the football association recurrently blamed the new fans for being political, that is, for serving their own interests rather than those of the whole people. The Ultras were well aware of these labels. In 2011 and 2012, the fans were keen to prove that they were properly nationalist, for example, by not taking parts in supposedly overtly political demonstrations and street fights. Indeed, I argue that the Ultras’ football revolution was most powerful precisely when it came across as respectable, nationalist, and non-political among the general public. Paradoxically, their political success was a consequence of their ability to stay outside the realm of putative politics. In the long run, however, it was not possible to push for revolutionary demands while at the same time maintaining an apolitical profile. From early 2013 onwards, the Ultras were caught up in events that made them look increasingly political, and which saw them lose a great deal of popular support.

The book’s conclusion suggests that this double bind faced by the Ultras was an impasse plaguing many revolutionary factions in Egypt. To understand this point we must first realize that the Egyptian revolution was a nationalist revolt first and foremost. Nationalism constituted a taken-for-granted meta-framework; liberals, Islamists, socialist, and the Army all claimed that they were fighting for the true interests of the whole people. While this was no doubt a reason behind the revolution’s initial success – appeals to nationalism could be recognized and supported by millions of Egyptians – it also imposed limitations. As the Ultras exemplify, it can be difficult to combine being a proper nationalist with fighting for the interests of particular subsections of the national collective, for example, a particular class or gender. I am convinced that this is a factor to consider when we try to understand why the Egyptian revolution was stifled. It is not at all easy to stay strictly non-political in a revolutionary situation that by its very essence requires bold action, violent resistance, and demands calling for radical transformation.

Jessica Winegar: This working with and through local conceptions of politics (siyasa) is fascinating. What advice would you give junior anthropologists working on politics in other contexts, then?

I guess my suggestion would be to be a bit less concerned with how anthropology defines politics and a bit more interested in what the people we work with understand to be political and not. In my analysis of siyasa I take cues from an article that Matei Candea wrote in 2011. Candea notes that while anthropologists since the 1960s have been very good at discerning politics in all thinkable sociocultural fields (the politics of gender, the politics of the body, clothing, taste, language, knowledge and so on), politics itself has rarely been examined. Candea proposes that anthropologists should study the political as an ethnographic category. His ethnographical material from schools and educational administrators on Corsica analyses in detail how politics is understood locally, how the political and non-political are divided up, and how such boundaries become an important part of reality.

My book demonstrates the potential of studying politics as an ethnographic category in revolutionary situations. Conducting my research in a period when siyasa seemed to be everywhere in Egypt, I documented how football people understood and delineated the political, as well as how it generated a visceral sense of unease. This empirical focus facilitated an analysis of the variegated work that the political does. It allowed me to pinpoint how too much politics forecloses previously strong emotions. As one interlocutor expressed it, ‘everything has become politics; there is no fun left.’ It also made me show how the political functions as a derogatory label: how it could discredit and marginalize actors from the national we; and how it could render a whole sport suspicious and problematic. I would imagine that similar analyses would be of interest in many contexts around the world. Which phenomena or individuals are political or not can never be known in advance. It is a fluid field ripe with contestations that must be studied ethnographically. Such ethnographic attention to emic notions of politics does not only provide valuable insights about what the political is, how it is debated, and how it feels. As I hope that my book demonstrates, it could also provide a fresh entry point for analyzing conflicts over resources, power, and hegemony, a ‘politics of politics,’ as I call it at one point in the conclusion.

Netta Avineri and Jesse Harasta on their edited volume, Metalinguistic Communities

Last fall, we published a co-edited volume entitled Metalinguistic Communities: Case Studies of Agency, Ideology, and Symbolic Uses of Language.  Bringing together ten ethnographic case studies from a range of global settings, we explored how people build metalinguistic communities defined not by use of a language, but primarily by shared language ideologies and symbolic practices about the language.

This blog post offers us an opportunity to reflect upon the process of creating this book and ask questions that are often lost in the minutiae of editing and writing, questions like: why was this project important? What were we doing that was different from usual practices in publishing? What guideposts can we leave for others trying to do similar work?  From these discussions, we have recognized the importance of the intertwined nature of ethos and process.  Even while editing the book we spoke about this and therefore included our guiding principles in the book introduction. In hindsight, our perspective on these issues has broadened. There are three core themes that have emerged, at times consciously planned and at times organically manifested: (1) the crucial importance of egalitarian collaboration; (2) the centrality of an open process; and (3) the value of interdisciplinary conversations.

Collaborative Work

As is common in anthropology, each of us began our independent work on these topics in our own individual ethnographic research, coming to parallel conclusions about the role of language in community-building. Though we may be energized by the relationships and understandings that immersive ethnography can afford, we have found the research process itself can at times feel solitary in nature. Out of this dilemma, we sought out a collaborative relationship from the inception of this project. 

The project began with a conference conversation, and like so many of that breed, it was a bit awkward at first.  At the 2018 National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC) quadrennial conference, Jesse attended a panel Netta had co-organized with Sarah Bunin Benor, where Netta discussed her concept of metalinguistic community (based on her ethnographic research on Yiddish heritage language socialization). Despite remembering feeling nervous, Jesse found the concept powerful and struck up a conversation.

We continued to correspond after the conference and later that year Jesse asked Netta if she would be the discussant on a panel about the metalinguistic community concept at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association that year.  While the NHLRC meeting was the first germ of this process, the panel was the productive beginning. It was in a post-talk brunch among the panelists that the book was first proposed with considerable interest. In retrospect, this was a pre-pandemic process that today makes us appreciate the physicality of those conferences and the types of sociality they permit.

 The importance of collaboration – understood as a meeting of equals – also guided our editorial process.  Instead of the inherently hierarchical and at times callous process of blind, anonymous peer review, we utilized open peer review that treated each author as an expert capable of editing and critique.

Authors were each assigned one of their fellow author’s chapters to review and provide feedback on (including our own!), and so everyone was both critic and critiqued.  The authors responded well to this process and appreciated the feedback, even building productive relationships and discussions with one another.  This peer editing was followed by a second round of feedback by the two editors, with particular attention to ensure coherence of voice and harmony across the volume.

Our process assumed the existence of collegial generosity, balancing of humility with expertise, and a desire for mutual aid. We were not disappointed by the volume authors.  In addition, we were able to collaborate with Netta’s research assistants throughout the project, which allowed for new perspectives that enriched the eventual product. Across the board, the project authors, panelists and other collaborators have been enthusiastic in their willingness to participate in the process and we found that transparency in the process facilitated their accountability and the product overall. 

Openness of the Project

For us, openness and collegiality are fundamental to successful academic communities, and our commitment to this ethos manifested in particular practices that we engaged in. We have found that at times the norms and practices of publishing in academia can be unnecessarily opaque to members of academic communities. In this project, one of our goals was to experiment with alternative, more inclusive strategies.  For us, ‘openness’ is a broad term referring to a preference for transparency over opacity among ourselves and with authors regarding process and positionality.

Our collaboration began with a panel organized for the 2018 AAA conference, for which we posted an open call for submissions to public message boards and listservs dedicated to heritage languages and linguistic anthropology.  We received a strong positive response from this strategy and had more submissions than we could include in the eventual book.

This inclusive approach continued as we transitioned into preparing the edited volume.  While we invited the original AAA 2018 panelists to participate in the book project, we knew that not all would be able to stay involved and we would have additional spaces in the volume. We returned again to public listservs and messageboards to request submissions and tried to be as transparent as possible about our process, including anonymizing submissions. We also reached out directly to Wesley Leonard, whom we both greatly respect, to author an afterword – his contribution was the only one not solicited through a more public process.

Selecting chapters was an exciting process given the range of submissions we received. It was also  challenging in terms of achieving diversity in a number of ways, including type of language community (diasporic, indigenous, minoritized), global region, language family and, of course, without sacrificing originality and quality of writing. We were to keep the submitters appraised of this process as it occurred through periodic emails.

Another element of our desire for transparency came in our request for positionality statements from each author.  Instead of beginning with a traditional abstract, our chapters open with each author introducing themselves, their relationship to the community with whom they work and any details about those relationships that they wished to share.  The goals here were not only focused on our ethical commitments to the participants in our respective research projects — but also revealing to the reader a behind the scenes glimpse of how research is done and how ethnographers and participants relate with one another. Our goal, which continues even into this blog post, has been to demystify our process to open up our practices to a wider audience.

Interdisciplinary Conversations

Our work has been deeply interdisciplinary from the start.  Part of this came from our own diverse training: Netta’s academic background is in applied linguistics, linguistic anthropology, and teacher education. She has long been interested in the social justice and social change implications of long-term ethnographic engagement with communities. More recently, she has combined these different interests in an approach she and colleagues have termed applied linguistic anthropology. Jesse came from a cultural anthropology background studying nationalism and religion, but found himself increasingly drawn to language as he realized he had stumbled into a context of language standardization with ethnographically rich processes and ideologies. We brought together our respective theoretical and methodological training to the project, while also bringing in an interdisciplinary ethos – meaning that we respected different perspectives and ways forward in the project.

As we included more authors, these perspectives continued to proliferate and mutually enrich one another.  In retrospect, we believe that having the text’s north star focused on the broad concept of Metalinguistic Community allowed for many types of authors to productively contribute through the lens of their different ethnographic realities. Simultaneously, these varied disciplinary and theoretical perspectives were accompanied by a wide geographic range of field settings.

Though there was consistency in terms of the chapter positionality statements and length, the structure of each chapter became intimately connected to the particulars of a given context – for example, including translations, transcripts, additional historical background, in-depth examples as suited to the foci of each other. Therefore, our job as the volume editors became to synthesize this range of rich material into a cohesive text.

Looking to the Future?

As we look to the future of our book, we hope that it will help to spark conversations among academics and language activists about what constitutes community in relation to language.  Our goal is to create an intellectual environment that recognizes a broader range of possible forms of success for envisioning language communities.  In our minds, these case studies not only describe communities but also provide paths forward for how to plan for the future of their relationships to their particular language.

In an ideal world, the book would contribute to an academic dialogue, in terms of undergraduate and graduate courses, scholarly exchanges, and minoritized language education. For example, we hope that metalinguistic community (and case studies thereof) become a model that is taught alongside other community-focused concepts in linguistic anthropology (for example, speech community, linguistic community). We look forward to other scholars adopting these concepts and building up this work in new and exciting directions, as the book itself has already done.

Embodying the collaborative nature of this book, we have both become advocates of a concept proposed by Wesley Leonard in our afterword: metalinguistic futurities. For many of these languages and communities, there is an intense attachment to the past. Our hope is that the past is not where the story ends. We see our work as part of a bridge to envisioning new futures where minoritized languages become equally understood as pathways to understand and experience the future.

In addition to content-specific impact, we hope that our text will become part of a larger movement in many areas of the academy to shift towards new forms of research and knowledge sharing that center collaboration, openness, and interdisciplinarity.  We understand the democratizing of knowledge to be a task of all disciplines and would be pleased to see our work as part of that more recent turn in academia more broadly.

Julia Hildebrand on her book, Aerial Play

Interview by Maximilian Jablonowski

Maximilian Jablonowski: While reading your book, one learns about your “transformation in a drone hobbyist”; from the thorough preparations in advance of your first flights with your drone Jay until you finally becoming an experienced drone pilot and drone videographer. Where did your interest in drones come from? Was there a particular event that sparked your curiosity in the new technology? And why did consumer drones, recreationally used drones in the “context of play”, as you’ve put it, strike you as a particularly relevant and timely field of research?

Julia M. Hildebrand: The connection between communication and transportation has always been a fascinating topic for me. Not only do these practices and concepts share some history but communication and movement continue to be entangled and disentangled in compelling ways. Think self-driving cars, Pokémon Go, and, of course, the consumer drone. I remember the moment when I decided to “zoom in” on the aerial medium. I had been looking for a project that would allow me to bring together media and mobilities research, when I watched a Netflix travel documentary about the U.S. Midwest. Suddenly, I saw this breath-taking shot in which a flying camera follows a car drive down Route 66 into the sunset. This aerial view and its movement were so unlike that of a helicopter, a balloon, or other airborne devices. I realized this was a drone. It would be the perfect platform on which to critically explore contemporary configurations of communication and transportation.

My attention to drones for play emerged out of the lack of empirical data for the popular recreational practice. There is a strong body of literature on the military drone and more and more scholarship is looking into the commercial drone. I was surprised to find so few studies on the hobby and artistic drone, when the U.S. alone counted almost 1 million hobbyists that seemingly logged 1.5 million hours of recreational flight every month in 2020. Plus, the hobby drone was becoming increasingly contentious with public narratives focusing on its capacities for spying, surveying, stalking, disrupting, and harming others. Nonetheless, recreational users have remained enthusiastic about the flying camera.

How do hobbyists adopt consumer drones and what do those practices teach us about contemporary forms of media and mobility? Exploring these questions through interviews, participant observation, and auto-ethnographic research allowed me to both fill gaps in drone scholarship with data on recreational and artistic uses as well as advance frameworks in critical media studies, mobile communication, and mobilities research. While many discourses position drones as predominantly weapons, neutral tools, or mere toys, I make the case for approaching consumer drones as mobile media with much potential in the hands of everyday users. 

Maximilian Jablonowski: Swiss drone researchers Francisco Klauser and Silvana Pedrozo have diagnosed a dramatic lack of empirical research in publications about drones. Even though the situation has somewhat changed since they made their assessment back in 2015, your book is certainly one of the most or, I would even say, the most methodologically advanced and empirically deep study in the field of drone research. You have developed “auto-drone-technography” as a concept and “drone-logs” as an epistemic tool for exploring the complex assemblage of communication, spaces, and mobilities that are brought together by drones. Could you tell a bit about these methodologies? How did they help you to approach drones, both as field of research and as technological objects?

Julia M. Hildebrand: The drone, which in my case is a DJI Mavic Pro Platinum model, allowed me to combine my aerial video recordings with personal audio voice-overs. Those “drone-logs” became an analytic diary of sorts in which “we” (the drone and I) captured the drone’s “sky videos” along with my own “ground audio.” That juxtaposition produced several interesting findings; by themselves each recording would have been less eye-opening.

I first recognized this as a unique opportunity for data collection and analysis when I followed one of my study participants on Facebook. They livestreamed an afternoon drone flight session but forgot to turn off their smartphone microphone. As a result, while watching the live-stream, I heard the remote pilot’s soft breathing. They eventually noticed this and turned off the mic. Yet, that moment in which the far away, machinic, aerial view was combined with the very intimate, human practice of breathing was extraordinary. The pairing of the two different recordings made each stand out more. This inspired me to juxtapose my own voice-overs, which were self-reflective and analytic as well as spontaneous, with the respective drone visuals.

By introducing the practice of “auto-drone-technography,” I want to emphasize the value of studying the moments in which the human meets the technology, where the organic entangles with the machinic in unexpected ways. In such instances, one can teach us about the other and vice versa. Rooted in auto-ethnography as the systematic exploration of personal experience, auto-technography emphasizes the role of technology in how we experience the world. The flying camera as a medium is special here insofar as it reminds us of the larger picture, the importance of taking a step back, zooming out, and looking back at ourselves. The positionality of the drone pilot and the researcher more generally become central through the civilian drone lens.

Maximilian Jablonowski: You have not only developed a methodology for researching about drones but also for researching with drones. You and your drone Jay became a “hybrid-researcher,” forming a connection you describe as not only epistemic but also affective mobile companionship. You even describe your interaction, or, as you’ve also put it in reference to Karen Barad, your intra-action with the drone as a dance. How did this connection inform your research about drones, which relations and affects did it make possible? What did you learn about drones through dancing with Jay?

Julia M. Hildebrand: Something I did not anticipate in this research was the agency that my drone “Jay” would take on. We would become a “hybrid researcher” in the production of drone logs. However, not always would the machine and I be in “sync.” Particularly when I was learning about a new feature, it seemed as if we first had to find each other, read each other’s cues, figure out our joint processes of moving and communicating. We are an uneven couple that was learning to waltz together.

In the book, I also describe the insightful moment when Jay froze on me one afternoon and I was left without control over the drone hovering just a few feet above me. “He” was set to actively track me and so he independently “followed” me for another couple of minutes until the battery eventually drained. This experience was amazing, amusing, and frightening.

The engagement with the mobile medium can cover a range of affects from fear about crashing or losing the drone, to exhilaration about the view one just accessed, frustration about the technology “needing” something (a new battery, a software update, a clear gesture from the user), and joy in the playful inter- and intra-actions with the flying bodily extension.

My interviewees and participants echoed those observations. Evident was also that this unusual mobile companion did not need relatable features to appear as a “pet,” a “friend,” a “baby,” a “witness,” or, in my case, a dance partner. It was mostly “his/her/its” movement and the minimal agencies that the intelligent flight functions would afford.

Maximilian Jablonowski: In addition to your auto-drone-technography, you also did extensive ethnographic research among drone users. In more sensationalist media coverage, but also in some academic work, drone users are often portrayed as irresponsible young men who don’t care for the safety or privacy of the people around them. In your research, one gets a very different impression of this community. Your interviewees are very diverse with regard to gender and age and highly aware of the risk and the power that comes with flying drones. Can you tell a bit more about this community? Who are consumer drone user? What motivates them, which backgrounds do they have? Which skills and literacies do consumer drone users have or develop and what does drone flying mean to them?

Julia M. Hildebrand: The community in general is more diverse than what the public discourse implies. Naturally, an affinity to new gadgets, video gaming, and aviation is what many recreational drone pilots have in common. Yet, there is also a large segment of hobbyists who come to the practice through photography and videography. In this community, the technophile meets the traveller, the gamer meets the photographer. In addition, older generations interact with younger ones and next to the stereotypical young white male, I was happy to also discover a notable group of women as well as people of colour flying drones for fun and work. Among my interviewees, for example, were a former female jet pilot in her sixties, a mother in her twenties who vlogs about her drone racing, and a man of colour in his forties who otherwise works long hours in a nursing home.

Many of them use the hobby as a form of relaxation and escape. It takes them outside and can feel like a release. Others enjoy flying their drone(s) with their children and grandchildren. Of course, all of my interviewees referred to the awe-inspiring aerial view of consumer drones. It is those breath-taking images of familiar and unfamiliar landscapes that keep hobbyists interested in the practice. And this, despite the barriers that exist for this hobby.

The price of drone gear, for example, is significant when one is looking for reliable and advanced systems. The most popular devices for recreational drone flight lie between $300 and $800 USD not including additional batteries, propellers, SD cards, and so on. Less expensive options are available, especially in the toy section, but can be harder to fly with less safety and lower image quality. The costs, hence, certainly prevent a lot of people from entering the hobby.

In addition, even when consumer drones come with sense-and-avoid functions and smart flight settings, they can be difficult to operate at first. It takes practice along with an understanding of geographical conditions, aerial regulations, and, most importantly, attention to surrounding human and nonhuman mobilities from bystanders to birds. A hobby pilot participates in aerial traffic and bears significant responsibilities which many of my interviewees were sensitive to.

Maximilian Jablonowski: You are conceptualising consumer drones as fundamentally productive devices; they open up new and hybrid spaces, afford new skills and perspectives, enable connections and communication. I want to focus on the probably most obvious product of consumer drones, namely still and moving images. With regard to their image production, I think there’s the gravest misconception in current drone research, because concepts of drone vision, of what drones see, are almost exclusively considering the perceptive practices and capabilities of military drones, implicitly assuming that all drones, no matter who’s using them for which purposes, make us perceive the world in the same way. Drawing on German philosopher Walter Benjamin, you’re conceptualising the consumer drones’ vision as being “auratic”. Could you explain what this means? How is this auratic way of seeing distinct from the imperial aerial gaze that is commonly associated with military viewing practices? What does it mean to ‘see like a consumer drone’, as you have put it?

Julia M. Hildebrand: My exploration of the consumer drone gaze is meant to complement the literature on the military drone stare. Although the technologies share the name and a military background, it is important to also note the differences in how a military operator collects drone footage and how a hobbyist uses their flying camera. Beyond the top-down, ordering forms of surveillance, the consumer drone allows for creative, spontaneous, and playful explorations of three-dimensional space. The hawkish drone stare is reductionist and possessive. The consumer drone gaze is primarily about artfully opening up alluring geographies and the user’s own positionalities.

Benjamin’s concept of aura helped me describe and analyse this phenomenon. In the original German text, he defines aura as “Erscheinung einer Ferne, so nah sie sein mag” (W. Benjamin, 1963: 15), which is translated as “phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.” The original sentence may also be understood as a “vision/ emergence/ appearance /emanation” of a “remoteness/ faraway place/ foreign space” however “near/ familiar” it may be. This impression of remoteness is front and centre in recreational drone flying as even familiar everyday spaces begin to appear unfamiliar, auratic.

This auratic and playful quality of the consumer drone gaze exists alongside the imperial drone stare. Hence, drone scholarship benefits from a clearer delineation between those different types of contemporary “drone visions.”

Maximilian Jablonowski: Since consumer drones started to get more and more popular, there’s a debate among scholars, but also within the interested public what their rise to popularity means with regard to airspace as a public, but still highly restricted space only available to few and privileged stakeholders. As I have perceived the debate, there are mainly two positions, a more optimistic and a more sceptical one. Some, especially people who have a commercial interest in drone use, argue that consumer drones will democratise airspace, making it available for new communities which until now didn’t have the skill or the permission to access it. This democratisation will open up new opportunities for recreation, but also for commerce. That’s why others, among them myself, are worried that commercial drones could lead to a partial privatisation of lower airspace. Amazon’s proposal to reserve the space between 400-500 ft. above the ground to high-speed drone traffic is a first indication in this direction.  This could finally have the effect that airspace dwellers like birds and insects and people on the ground will experience increased noise and pollution from above, infringing on their health and well-being.

On the final pages of your book, you make a very interesting case for an “individual right to aerial space”. How is this idea related to the controversy whether drones democratise or privatise airspace and why do think this right is important?

Julia M. Hildebrand: This question is increasingly relevant as public agencies such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Global UTM Association, but also private, commercial stakeholders “map” out desired unmanned traffic management approaches and spaces. In the U.S. context, the commercial sector is clearly privileged in those plans and conversations. The commercial drone market and investments into it continue to grow with major opportunities for especially the energy, construction, and agriculture industries. Aerial space is needed for commercial drones to safely map and survey, inspect, take images, and yes, make deliveries for Google, Amazon, and Walmart. The FAA already recognizes Google’s Wing and Amazon’s Prime Air as small drone airlines.

Recreational uses are at best secondary if mentioned at all in such plans and visions. It is unclear to what extent the hobby will be considered as lower airspaces get reassigned. In the book’s conclusion, I argue that consumer drones are unique points of entry into an educational hobby and often profession that combine technology, aviation, and science with communication, creativity, and the environment. The auratic vertical gaze, the freedom and release experienced by users, the distinct personal affective mobilities, and the “drone-mindedness” that can increase geographical awareness and environmental literacy are worth preserving through what I understand as an “individual right to aerial space.”

Without more insights into how and why recreational users adopt consumer drones and an understanding of its merits, we cannot adequately map out future unmanned aerial traffic. We run the risk of shutting down social, cultural, artistic, and educational opportunities for people outside of aviation and commerce to discover everyday geographies anew in a clearly regulated and governed but, nonetheless, shared aerial space.


Benjamin, Walter. 1963. Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit.


E. Moore Quinn on the edited volume Women and Pilgrimage

It is interesting, and often useful, once a project has come to fruition (that is, seen the light of print), to breathe deeply, take a pause, and reflect on the path it has taken. To do this seems especially worthwhile when the work is entitled Women and Pilgrimage (Quinn and Smith 2022). In this case, to consider the collecting of articles as an academic form of sacred travel extends the metaphor, for, like the many journeys we as anthropologists undertake, this one demanded steadfastness and dedication. It continues to be a labor of love.

The origin story of Women and Pilgrimage

It was the second week of November 2019. The setting was the Symposium for Pilgrimage Studies at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia, where scholars gather annually to share the myriad aspects of pilgrimage: paths, perspectives, and pedagogy. As difficult as it is to believe now, “Covid-19” was not part of our vocabulary.

We two were – and still are – colleagues at academic institutions in Charleston, South Carolina. Initially, Alison T. Smith, professor of Spanish and French at The Citadel, and I, E. Moore Quinn, professor of Anthropology at the College of Charleston, had come together five years earlier to pursue the pilgrimage phenomenon; it was then that, as co-host of the first Sacred Journeys Conference on Pilgrimage at Oxford University, I invited Dr. Smith to join our list of conference presenters. Fortunately, she agreed.

For the next few years, Sacred Journeys was at the forefront of our working relationship. However, by 2019, both of us were developing an inchoate sense that gaps relating to women’s travel were apparent. However, considerations as to how to fill them remained on the horizon.

From the outset, we were conscious of the fact that, in terms of pilgrims’ collective experiences, overlaps exist. Hunger, cold, deprivation, difficulties with shoes and/or clothing, bodily discomforts such as blisters and sunburns, and even having too much to carry or what feels like the wrong gear for the journey: these realities affect all of us who move in pilgrimage realms.

On the other hand, we were keenly aware that, at the level of women’s bodies, other factors can—and often do—demand attention. These include physical realities such as menstruation, childbearing, childbirth, child-caring, midwifery, and in some cases, the tasks involved in preparing bodies for death and burial. Often, just as they do at home, domestic chores like cooking and keeping clean become the concerns of women on the road.

These and other unexpressed or unacknowledged realizations led Dr. Alison T. Smith and me to begin a journey that would result in a volume of essays called Women and Pilgrimage.

The advancement of the project

Even before the official project was launched, we had become steeped in extant materials. We found inspiration from several works on pilgrim women in various time periods like the Middle Ages (Morrison 2000; Craig 2009; Bailey 2013). There are regional studies of women pilgrims, such as those who make the journey to Mecca (Dietz 2005). There are studies of “outlier” women like Margery Kempe (1373-1440) who earned fame as a woman traveler, and notorious women pilgrims of literature, such as the “Wife of Bath” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the wily Justina in López de Ubeda’s La Pícara Justina, and the “sisterly” Sigismunda, featured in Cervantes’ The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern Story.

Within the field of Anthropology, Jill Dubisch’s (2005) study, In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender and Politics at a Greek Island Shrine, contributes powerfully, as does Nancy Frey’s (2005) Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago. Although the latter is not devoted to women specifically, it succinctly captures the personal narratives of many women pilgrims.

Frequently, despite the useful insights bestowed by these works, they appeal to students and scholars within specific fields (such as religious studies, medieval studies, and pilgrimage studies). In contrast, the various chapters in Women and Pilgrimage stretch boundaries by being cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, comparative, and feminist.

The acquisition of contributors 

It happens at the close of many conferences that, after dinners have been served and glasses of wine consumed, brainstorming takes over. So, too, with this project. As the 2019 Symposium for Pilgrimage Studies at William and Mary wound down and conversations became more intense, Dr. Smith and I came to an even more stark realization: notwithstanding the fact that many papers and panels we had attended had been rich and insightful, missing were the very topics we had sought: the multiple and varied experiences of women pilgrims. Simultaneously, we became convinced further of the need for a project called Women and Pilgrimage.

Fortunately for us, we could buttonhole right then and there a good selection of Symposium attendees. Even more to our advantage was the fact that many of them quickly identified data that could form potential chapters. Prospective authors were asked to examine the cultural meanings of their subjects’ journeys to fill the aforementioned gaps and to theorize about women travelers.  

Days after returning from the event, Dr. Smith and I contacted additional willing contributors. Some had published in Sacred Journeys volumes; some were new scholars eager for the chance to participate. Friends and colleagues suggested likely publishers. CAB International (CABI), with its series on Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, seemed well suited to our intentions.

Although in retrospect, I’d like to say that “the rest is history,” I must acknowledge that the aforementioned (but to repeat, as-yet-unknown) term, Covid-19, was about to take its toll.

On occasions too numerous to mention, setback after setback ensued. Due to an inability to travel to complete fieldwork, find resources, or remain healthy, potential contributors withdrew. Even the personnel assigned to us by the publisher fell ill; at length, some, finding their improvement elusive, were obliged to surrender their posts entirely.

Still, we prevailed, or, to put it in Ketanji Brown Jackson’s words, we persevered.

Women and Pilgrimage finally saw the light of print in March of this year (2022)

The outcomes for Women and Pilgrimage

Now that the work has been published and made readily available, we hope that it will bring more awareness to women who move. The book upends the myth that women did not go on pilgrimage in the past. It provides room for women travelers’ voices, bringing them to the fore with numerous studies and examples. Perhaps most importantly, Women and Pilgrimage broadens pilgrimage studies holistically in the following ways:

a. historicallySarah Owens’s chapter covers Sor Maria de Jesús, known in her own life as a “living saint” because of her direct communication with the divine. Maryjane Dunn examines several well-to-do women “pilgrim” writers who addressed the still-relevant subject of authenticity.

b. politicallyAlison T. Smith’s chapter deals with women who reclaim spaces to emphasize their personal agendas.

c. economicallyWomen and Pilgrimage reveals the fact that women pilgrims of various persuasions traveled for the well-being of their families. Emblematic of what Arlie Hochschild (2003:17) calls women’s “care drain,” they serve(d) as nurses, companions, motherly nurturers, humanitarian relief workers, apprentices, entertainers, domestics in monasteries, delivery service workers, and more. Sharenda Barlar’s chapter addresses women pilgrims who traveled for multiple purposes, including those related to acquiring food. And Lisa Signori explores the translatione, a genre that functioned within medieval literary traditions to validate the theft of women saints’ relics (furta sacra) for commercial monastic purposes.

d. culturally – women participate in pilgrimage practices as part of a complex of communal behaviors. Vivienne Keely interviews a pilgrim consultant who explains her proclivity to continue a practice that has endured since her childhood. And Susan Dunn-Hensley addresses women’s journeys as forms of a cultural practice connected to successful pregnancies and safe deliveries.

e. artisticallyEmma Rochester’s chapter delves into how pilgrimage has inspired women photographers, filmmakers, installation artists, and poets.  

f. sociallyShirley du Plooy’s chapter on Mantsopa, a South African prophetess, reveals how pilgrims take part in their age-old annual festivities even as they are forced to deal with the ramifications of land and space appropriation by the Anglican clergy.

g. linguisticallyE. Moore Quinn’s chapter deals with the lack of social mixing between hosts and guests, leading to the conclusion that “Never the linguistic twain did meet.”

h. analytically – Tim Cresswell (2006:4) states, “Mobile people are never simply people – they are dancers and pedestrians, drivers and athletes, refugees and citizens, tourists or businesspeople, men and women” (emphasis added).

The book Women and Pilgrimage validates Cresswell’s thinking by addressing the politics of mobility then and now. From a 2019 symposium that was held shortly before the pandemic struck, a thought that had not yet been articulated became a project with shape and form. Nearly two and a half years later, in the face of unique and daunting odds, Women and Pilgrimage was brought to fruition. Included in its 150+ pages are many aspects of travel, including motive, speed, rhythm, route, friction, and more.

What makes Women and Pilgrimage unique is that it addresses the many aspects of movement, not only as they were—and are—experienced, but as how they were—and are—experienced by women.

Selected bibliography

Bailey, Anne E. (2013a) Wives, Mothers and Widows on Pilgrimage: Categories of ‘Woman’

Recorded at English Healing Shrines in the High Middle Ages. Journal of Medieval

History 39, 197-219.

Bailey, Anne E. (2013b) Modern and Medieval Approaches to Pilgrimage, Gender and Sacred

Space. History and Anthropology 24(4), 493-512.

Bailey, Anne E. (2015) Women Pilgrims and Traveling Companions in Twelfth-Century England.

Viator 46(1), 115-134.

Buitelaar, Marjo, Stephan-Emmrich, Manja, and Thimm, Viola (2021) Introduction: Muslim

Pilgrimage through the Lens of Women’s New Mobilities. In: Buitelaar, Marjo,

Stephan-Emmrich, Manja, and Thimm, Viola(eds) Muslim Women’s Pilgrimage to Mecca

and Beyond: Configuring Gender, Religion, and Mobility. Routledge, London, pp. 1-18.

Cloke, Gillian (1995) This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age,

A.D. 350-450. Routledge, New York.

Coons, Lynda L. (1997) Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity.

University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Craig, Leigh Ann (2009) Wandering Women and Holy Matrons: Women as Pilgrims in the Later

Middle Ages. Brill, Leiden.

Cresswell, Tim (2006) On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World. Routledge, London. Cresswell, Tim and Uteng, Tanu Priya (2008) Gendered Mobilities: Towards a Holistic

Understanding. In: Uteng, Tanu Priya and Cresswell, Tim (eds) Gendered Mobilities.

Ashgate: Aldershot, pp. 1-12.

Dietz, Maribel (2005) Wandering Monks, Virgins, and Pilgrims: Ascetic Travel in the

Mediterranean World AD 300-800. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University

Park, Pennsylvania.

Dubisch, Jill (1995) In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender and Politics at a Greek Island

Shrine. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Evers Rosander, Eva (2004) Going and Not Going to Porokhane: Mourid Women and

Pilgrimage in Segal and Spain. In: Coleman, Simon and Eade, John (eds) Reframing

Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. Routledge: London, pp. 69-90.

Farley, Janice (2020) Pilgrimage as Empowerment: Women Trailblazers. In: McIntosh, Ian,

Haddad, Nour Farra, and Munro, Dane (eds) Peace Journeys: A New Direction in Religious

Tourism and Pilgrimage Research. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne,

pp. 257-275.

Hochschild, Arlie R. (2003) Love and Gold. In: Ehrenreich, Barbara and Hochschild, Arlie R.

(eds) Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. Henry Holt,

New York, pp. 15-30.

Morrison, Susan Signe (2000) Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England: Private Piety as Public

Performance. Routledge, London.

Quinn, E. Moore and Alison T. Smith (2022) Women and Pilgrimage. Oxfordshire, UK: CAB


Swan, Laura (2001) The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early

Christian Women. New York: Paulist Press.

Alessandro Duranti on his edited volume, Rethinking Politeness with Henri Bergson

Interview with Q

The following dialogue is a transcript of an interview by a member of our staff (who will remain anonymous) with Alessandro Duranti, editor of Rethinking Politeness with Henri Bergson, (Oxford University Press, 2022), a collection of chapters inspired by a lecture on politeness given by the famous French philosopher Henri Bergson to high school students in the late nineteenth century.   

Q:        Why “politeness” again? And why this time with Bergson? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Politeness was a theme that captured the imagination of linguists in the 1970s but has been somehow forgotten over the // last couple of decades … 

Q:        Speaking of forgetting, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce you.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Don’t worry, I assumed this would be informal. 

Q:        Not really. It’s an interview after all. If you are familiar with Conversation Analysis… 

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, then, I should have thanked you for inviting me. 

Q:        Did I? 

Alessandro Duranti:    You mean I invited myself?   

Q:        It’s okay. I don’t mind people being a bit pushy. After all, writing a book is a big deal. 

Alessandro Duranti:    True. 

Q:        Even though actually … you didn’t really write the book, you edited it, didn’t you?  

Alessandro Duranti:    uh, I- I- yes, I edited it, // but- 

Q:        That’s what I thought. 

Alessandro Duranti:    I- I also wrote a chapter and the introduction.  

Q:        Ok, then please go ahead and again apologies for going straight into the first question without formalities. I should have been more polite.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, that’s one way of being polite, which Bergson called “politeness of manners.”  

Q:        You mean there is more than one kind of politeness? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes, according to Bergson there are three kinds.  

Q:        Not surprisingly. The French seem to like sets of three.  Liberté, fraternité, egalité.  

Alessandro Duranti:    That was actually Bergson’s point.  

Q:        What? 

Alessandro Duranti:    That his three kinds of politeness match the three key concepts of the French Republic.  

Q:        Is that what attracted you to the essay? This kind of parallelism? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No. I’m not sure the parallelism works. What attracted me to Bergson’s lecture was // that- 

Q:        By the way, is the lecture included in the volume? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes! It is translated for the first time in English.  

Q:        That’s a coup.  Did you translate it? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, no. I was fortunate to find a really good translator who happens to be an expert on Bergson and his times, Mahalia Gayle. She contributed a chapter on the aristocratic origins of the modern French notion of politesse, which she calls “political” because it is still grounded in privilege and inequality.   

Q:        So the book is mostly about French politeness? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, only in part. Let’s see. There is a chapter by Aliyah Morgenstern about how French girls in Parisian middle-class families are currently socialized to be polite and another one by Graham Jones based on a popular comic strip by a Franco-Syrian artist who gives vocal and gestural expression to two Black teenagers discussing in the métro their moral outrage toward the lack of politeness shown by their school principal.  

Q:        You mean readers will also find something about impoliteness in the book …  

Alessandro Duranti:    For sure.  In another chapter, Terra Edwards writes about her experience hanging out with DeafBlind people who have developed a tactile system of communication that when applied in the presence of sighted people can easily appear impolite or aggressive.   

Q:        You mean there’s more in the book than the usual face-to-face communication … 

Alessandro Duranti:    Indeed, we have hand-to-hand, hand-to-neck, and more.  

Q:        Fascinating. Well, thank you so much. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Are we already done? Aren’t you going to ask me if there is anything about politeness and gender? 

Q:        Should I? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, as I was trying to say at the beginning before I was interrupted … 

Q:        I’m sure our readers will appreciate the polite use of the passive voice to avoid blaming me directly for interrupting you.  

Alessandro Duranti:    You are still using the term “polite” in a very narrow way.  

Q:        I’m open to other possibilities.  

Alessandro Duranti:    As I was trying to say, the linguistic study of politeness started in the 1970s. Robin Lakoff was a pioneer in the field … 

Q:        You mean the “women-are-more-polite-than-men” craze later debunked by the work of Elinor Ochs in Madagascar and Candy Goodwin in Philadelphia? 

Alessandro Duranti:    As a matter of fact, Judith Irvine wrote a chapter on the difficulty of adapting a model developed in one society to another. Bergson was speaking about politeness to male students in an elite high school in Paris …   

Q:        Is this a renewed rejection of the idea that there are universals of politeness? Are we going to read again about counterexamples to the Brown and Levinson model, based on Grice’s maxims and Goffman’s notion of “face work”? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, there is very little about that. What all essays share is the willingness to rethink about politeness without having to go back to the strategic perspective of earlier accounts.    

Q:        How is that possible? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Because Bergson was a proto-phenomenologist who celebrated intuition and the temporal unfolding of human experience.  He even lectured about the soul.  

Q:        Can you give us a hint about how his view of politeness is different? 

Alessandro Duranti:    He invites us to go beyond manners and protocol and think of politeness as virtue, an idea discussed by Kamala Russell, who wrote about everyday life of Muslim women in Dhofar, Oman.  She shows that what might be glossed as polite behavior in the context of welcoming an unexpected visitor, it is better understood as the result of a spiritual and embodied disposition to avoid an excessive concern for judgment of others and assume instead a concern for one’s soul.  

Q:        An embodied disposition. That’s different from a strategy. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Definitely.  

Q:        It sounds like the politeness discussed in this volume includes ethics and religion.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes, it does.   Ethics is in fact the focus of Jason Throop’s chapter, where he retraces the professional and personal relation between Bergson and William James.  They shared the view of experience as a moving stream of activity and applied it to a notion of a creative morality. 

Q:        How does language come into this? 

Alessandro Duranti:    That needs to be figured out because Bergson was skeptical of the ability of language to capture the flow of experience.  As Bill Hanks discusses in his chapter, Bergson thought of language as a static and constraining classificatory system.   

Q:        That’s quite common for most philosophers. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Hanks reminds us that Bergson didn’t seem to know about indexicality and that deictics – words like I, you, here, now, this, and so on – do something different from representing ideas.  They extend the use of language to the sensual perception of the here-and-now, allowing for meanings that exceed the boundaries of pre-given semantic categories.  

Q:        That makes sense. Uhm. Well, thank you.  You have covered quite a lot.

Alessandro Duranti:    Wait. Aren’t you going to ask me if we have anything on new media? 

Q:        Anything on computer-mediated interaction?  

Alessandro Duranti:    I am glad you asked.  Keith Murphy came to the 2019 AAA session where most of the papers were first presented and got inspired to write about the implicit model of politeness that computer programmers adopt in writing software.   

Q:        And what is that? 

Alessandro Duranti:    The computer is meant to serve users who are used to being served. It is a hierarchical relationship mediated by a narrow kind of politeness.  Bergson wanted the students to think beyond polite formulas. He spoke of sympathy towards others and introduced the concepts of “politeness of mind” and “politeness of the heart” …  

Q:        That sounds very romantic.  

Alessandro Duranti:    I would say empathetic and anticipatory of the needs of another human being.   

Q:        That sounds different from what we are used to.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Precisely! Politeness is often defined in terms of rights and obligations or compensating for indirect speech acts like “May I have the salt?” 

Q:        A famously threatening act. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Scarier than one would think.  

Q:        Do you mind if we end now?   

Alessandro Duranti:    I hope I didn’t impose.  

Q:        It wasn’t bad.  

Alessandro Duranti:    I enjoyed it. 

Q:        Really? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Kind of.  

Q:        C’mon. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Ok, it was fun.  

Q:        What kind of politeness is that? 

Alessandro Duranti:    You have to read the book.