Joshua Babcock takes the page 99 test

“It’s about sarees or some shit.” This sentence—probably my favorite in the dissertation—comes from a group interview with Chand Chandramohan, Diva, and Seelan Palay, the organizers of Singapore’s first all-South Asian contermporary art series, From Your Eyes to Ours. The quote shows up on page 99 for the second time in the chapter, just before the chapter’s conclusion starts. In this quote, multidisciplinary artist Chand Chandramohan summed up a series of assumptions that were routinely articulated by racially hegemonic Singaporean perceivers upon encountering the art event: that to be an Indian-Singaporean artist is to do “Indian art”—that is, to (re)produce traditional South Asian forms for Indian audiences—thus denying the possibility of their participating in contemporary art aesthetics.

Like most places existing in the wake of racialized/racializing modernity, in Singapore, to “belong” to a race is also to “possess” a language—at least ideally. Later on page 99, I note that the three co-organizers gave the title “Yes, I Speak Indian” to a visual art exhibition that occurred as part of From Your Eyes to Ours. This title acted as a form of shorthand satire, critiquing a recurrent assumption that “Indian” is a monolith, a single community that possesses and uses a single language.

Yet more than this, the organizers of From Your Eyes to Ours voiced and critiqued a deeper presupposition: that to invoke “Indian” in Singapore is to invoke not only a race, but also to legitimate Race. Referenced via the shorthand CMIO (an acronym standing for Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Other Singaporeans), Race-capital-R stands as the sum total of all the “races of Singapore,” a self-evident, totalizing structure that shapes raciolinguistic hierarchies in the present without actually being total.

Beyond its contents, page 99 exemplifies my dissertation’s broader political stakes. Page 99 presents large stretches of the interview with Chand, Diva, and Seelan as theory-work, rather than relegating it to the status of mere evidence provided by an “informant.” Like the dissertation, page 99 also doesn’t shy away from the political: from deep, close engagement with the critiques of raciolinguistic hegemony, oppression, and marginalization that were generously articulated to me by my co-theorists in Singapore. Similarly, like page 99, the dissertation confronts my own status as a raciolinguistically hegemonic perceiver, as a token of a privileged type capable of accessing prestige registers of English, elite education, and white-passing privilege—among others.

Joshua Babcock. 2022. Image and the Total Utopia: Scaling Raciolinguistic Belonging in Singapore. University of Chicago, PhD.

Emanuel Moss takes the Page 99 test

On the 99th page of my dissertation, “The Objective Function: Science and Society in the Age of Machine Intelligence”, the first full paragraph describes how machine learning researchers go about deciding which projects they should work on. Given that the dissertation, as a whole, is concerned with understanding how machine intelligence—data-driven algorithmic techniques like machine learning, data science, and artificial intelligence—produces knowledge and constructs the authority it holds as it moves across a wide range of domains, this page seems a particularly apt representation of the whole. This page also gestures at the idiosyncrasies of fieldwork that allowed me to address these concerns, as the research lab I had found myself working in was particularly reflexive about the work they did. Without the reflexivity of my interlocutors, many of the social processes I was interested in would have likely remained hidden from my view, or at least been much more difficult to access ethnographically. The paragraph in question reads:

“In the sense that most work in machine intelligence involves applying a well-suited technique to a well-posed problem, the exercise these applied machine learning researchers undertook for their research report was merely a highly reflexive version of how machine intelligence is applied generally. Inspired by the horizontal organizational structures common in the technology industry (Scott 1975; Pfeffer and Leblebici 1977), researchers at OTH shared responsibilities and steered many business decisions through collaboration and consensus. The topic-selection process at the lab was emblematic of this. It was run by the researcher whose “turn” it was to write the next report and involved a series of whiteboard exercises in which all lab members would nominate candidates, research their potential as a topic, and then present their favored candidates to the entire team, who would then collectively winnow down the candidates to a few finalists. The report author would ultimately select the topic. The reflexivity of the process these applied machine learning researchers engaged in offers a valuable window into questions that go un-asked and assumptions that go un-examined in more mundane, less research-oriented applications of machine intelligence. The research report I participated in addressed a technique called “multi-task learning” that was first described in the late 1990s (Caruana 1997), but the technique rose to the top of the topic-selection process because it had recently found applications in industry (see McCann et al. 2018), and was more easily integrated with newer machine learning programming packages.”

What this paragraph reveals, for me at least, is that the production of knowledge through machine learning is a collaborative, practice-based process. To fully understand the role it plays in reshaping social worlds requires seeing the many ways it is shaped by organizational prerogatives and industry-specific ways of structuring work practices. But machine intelligence is also shaped by the questions researchers choose to ask, and—by extension—the questions they do not. These situated knowledges (Haraway 1988, Rouse 2002, Katell et al. 2020), I eventually conclude, contribute to the overall conservatism of machine intelligence. Contrary to the trappings they carry in popular imaginaries of technological advancement and futuristic automation, machine intelligence conserves the power of already-existing institutions and it reinscribes social relations of the past into the present and future. Machine intelligence may, on the surface, threaten the authority of powerful actors like judges, doctors, or loan officers by way of automation. But, in reality, machine intelligence preserves the power of the institutions — the courts, hospitals, and banks — that confer authority upon those actors. This is because, in selecting problems, and in addressing them, the work of machine intelligence is to ask questions that extend power, and not to challenge it.

Caruana, Rich. 1997. “Multitask Learning.” Machine Learning 28 (1): 41–75.

Haraway, Donna J. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066.

Michael Katell, Meg Young, Dharma Dailey, Bernease Herman, Vivian Guetler, Aaron Tam, Corinne Binz, Daniella Raz, and P. M. Krafft. 2020. Toward Situated Interventions for Algorithmic Equity: Lessons from the Field. In Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAT* ’20), January 27–30, 2020, Barcelona, Spain. ACM, New York, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.1145/3351095.3372874.

McCann, Bryan, Nitish Shirish Keskar, Caiming Xiong, and Richard Socher. 2018. “The Natural Language Decathlon: Multitask Learning as Question Answering.” ArXiv:1806.08730 [Cs, Stat], June. http://arxiv.org/abs/1806.08730.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey, and Husayin Leblebici. 1977. “Information Technology and Organizational Structure.” The Pacific Sociological Review 20 (2): 241–61.

Rouse, Joseph. 2002. How Scientific Practices Matter: Reclaiming Philosophical Naturalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scott, W. Richard. 1975. “Organizational Structure.” Annual Review of Sociology 1 (1): 1–20.

Baird Campbell takes the page 99 test

Page 99 of my dissertation falls in the middle of the second chapter, “Historia: Social Media as a Tool for Counter-Memory.” Each chapter takes a salient concept from my fieldwork as a jumping off point, and in chapter 2 this concept is “historia.” Historia is interesting because of the ambiguity that this word creates when translated to English; it means both ‘history’ and ‘story,’ which I use as an entry point to discuss the online history making practices among Chilean trans activists at the heart of this project. As they tell stories, they make history…

Though I began with a more traditional project in mind, social media emerged unexpectedly as a central theme in my interviews, as a tool for community building and knowledge sharing, and as an archive. At the same time, as I conducted life history interviews, the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and its aftermath seemed inescapable. Though the advent of social media and the end of the dictatorship were separated by two decades, the connection between them felt obvious to me, but in a way that took me several years to articulate.  

Page 99 is dominated by two lengthy quotes from Alejandra Soto, the president of trans sex worker’s rights organization Sindicato Amanda Jofré. In these quotes, Alejandra recounts in painful detail the suspected murder of the organization’s namesake at the hands of a former member of Pinochet’s secret police, the DINA.

(from pg. 99)

——-

Both Amanda’s subaltern position and that of her compañeras meant that, though charges were filed and evidence presented, he was ultimately cleared of all charges, understood to be de facto a more credible witness than the women he made a habit of torturing. This is especially telling given that there was another compañera present during these events whose eyewitness testimony was essentially ignored in favor of protecting a man with connections to the halls of power.

“There was another compañera there, and he told her ‘She’s suffocating. Let’s let her die and we’ll just throw her body into the Mapocho.’ And the compañera said ‘No, no, don’t throw her away.’ And she called us and we showed up with the cops, the media, and saw them carrying her outside, dead.”

“So what happened to him?” I asked, shocked at the brazenness of what I was hearing.

“He was out in a month. I mean, he was in the DINA. He had a lot of support.”

——-

It was through becoming Facebook friends with many of my interlocutors that I was able to learn—in bits and pieces—more about the stories they told me in interviews, like the one above. As I became attuned to these traces, in classic ethnographic fashion, the connection revealed itself. I began to connect faces, names, and events, revealing small glimpses of Chile’s trans history.

Marginalized communities have long had to develop their own methods of preserving their histories. For Chile’s trans community, this has historically taken the form of oral history. In turn, this practice has become enmeshed with the open wound of thousands of murdered and disappeared political prisoners whose stories will never be known, a central focus of contemporary Chilean activism.

Though my ethnography bridges on- and offline spaces, it ultimately maps a trajectory of alternative history making practices that predate the internet. Social media is simply its most recent iteration.

Baird Campbell. 2021. “The Archive of the Self: Trans Self-Making and Social Media in Chile.” Rice University, Phd.

Janet Connor takes the page 99 test

Page 99 of my dissertation introduces the term “Swedish conditions” (Svenske tilstander), a concept circulating in the Norwegian media during my fieldwork in the capital city of Oslo. It refers to a situation where liberal immigration policies lead to dangerous urban neighborhoods with high crime rates, which is an image that some Norwegians have of neighboring Sweden. Although the term had originally been popularized by far-right politicians, it has since been taken up by people with a wide range of political beliefs, and I found that even for many of those who criticized the term, it was more often a question of whether “Swedish conditions” existed in Oslo than whether the term accurately described Sweden.

“Swedish conditions” is just one of many examples throughout the dissertation of how people in Oslo take part in a wide range of situated, perspectival scale-making practices to understand “global threats” to the traditional Norwegian welfare state and to imagine alternatives. I use the example of “Swedish conditions” to argue that a simple citizen/foreigner or host/guest dichotomy does not adequately describe situations of contemporary migration, particularly in Europe. Instead, what even counts as “foreign” or “outsider” is highly dependent on perspective, and understandings of Norwegian national identity include a distinction from a variety of interconnected yet different kinds of “foreignness.” Here, the Norwegian media sees people of non-European, primarily Muslim background, through an imagined Swedish lens.

I would not say that page 99 is representative of my dissertation as a whole. Discourses of “Swedish conditions” were instead something my interlocutors were working against, as they worked to reimagine the Norwegian welfare model as both more inclusive of an increasingly ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse citizenry, and as something that could be sustained economically without a reliance on oil production. The dissertation traces how, through their linguistic practices, seemingly opposed social actors perform a kind of similarity and coherence, valued in Norwegian understandings of egalitarian democracy, that can give them and their perspectives authority. In these attempts to achieve coherence, ways of listening become more important than ways of speaking to how my interlocutors create identities and envision a democratic future.

Janet Connor. 2021. “Making Welfare ‘Sustainable’: The Language, Politics, and Ethics of Scale-Making in a Norwegian Neighborhood.” University of Chicago Phd.

Beth Derderian takes the page 99 test

Why do some things count as art and go in museums, and other things don’t?

“Exhibition organizers in the UAE often requested proof of citizenship status as part of open call or exhibition applications, a primary and material instance where citizenship status came to the fore in the art community. Curators revealed that their supervisors leaned on them to increase the visibility of Emirati artists, whether by restricting funds or by ‘suggestion.’”

Page 99 meets Ford’s test: it discusses citizenship, hierarchy and power (here in terms of visibility), and art in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which were key themes in my dissertation, “Displaying Culture: The Politics of Art, Liberalism, and the State in the UAE.” I wrote about the politics of art-making and exhibiting in the UAE during a decade of widespread transformation, between the Emirati government’s 2006 announcement that they would build a Louvre and a Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 2017 opening.

“Corinne, another curator, remarked that she was encouraged to show ‘only 100% citizens’… those who possessed both an Emirati passport and khulasat qaid”

 In the UAE, one is only a citizen if they hold both a family card (called a khulasat qaid), tracing their paternal lineage to a recognized Emirati family, and an Emirati passport. Showcasing artwork made by Emirati citizens was important to the state’s larger project of presenting a civilized, cultured state to play suitable host to a Louvre and a Guggenheim. Many of my interlocutors were not citizens, but had resided in the country for much – if not all – of their lives, and it was their work, both artistically as well as professionally, that laid most of the foundation of the UAE’s burgeoning art scene. Some variation of this tension over belonging and representation – whose art counts as real art, both historically and in the present? Whose work will be exhibited? Who represents the Emirati nation? – undergirds every chapter of the dissertation, and remains at the core of my research.

Beth Derderian. 2019. “Displaying Culture: The Politics of Art, Liberalism, and the State in UAE.” Northwestern University, Phd.

Hannah Carlan takes the page 99 test for her dissertation

As it so happens, page 99 of my dissertation is the conclusion of my first body chapter following the introduction. My dissertation, “Producing Prosperity: Language and the Labor of Development in India’s Western Himalayas,” is a linguistic ethnography of rural development work in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. This chapter, entitled “‘We Eat Their Minds’: Communicative Infrastructures of Development in Kangra,” serves as an orienting chapter for the entire dissertation. It examines the everyday communicative work of rural bureaucrats and NGO workers through which the state enacts welfare policies and programs in Kangra. I argue that rural development is itself a communicative project, one that is enacted through face-to-face meetings between villagers and development workers and which serve as the infrastructure for decision making, debate, and information dissemination. I enter this through an analysis of the pervasive narrative that rural bureaucrats and NGO workers are “mind eaters” (dimaag khaaNe aale)—people who drive others mad through excessive talking. Development officials and rural villagers alike deployed the discourse of mind eating to frame development work as what I call semiotic labor—everyday interactional projects of meaning-making. In this chapter, I delve into the language ideological assessments of development as itself a form of grueling semiotic labor—mind-eating—requiring incessant contestation over the meanings of need, deservingness, poverty, and prosperity. Semiotic labor is itself embedded in the political economy of multilingualism in Kangra, where three to five languages are commonly used in everyday life, and which are embedded in hierarchies of value. As the conclusion to my first body chapter, page 99 feels like a proper snapshot of what I hope the dissertation will demonstrate; yet, whether or not it actually does reach these conclusions is another question entirely.

Page 99:

This chapter has introduced the everyday labor of rural development in Kangra, which workers metapragmatically frame as “eating people’s minds.”  Mind-eating, I have argued, serves as a narrative device through which to grapple with feelings of ineffectualness, and to guard against potential citizens’ claims. Workers across state and non-state institutions are themselves deeply intertwined, mutually reliant on one another’s social and material infrastructures in order to conduct their activities. Nevertheless, bureaucrats and NGO workers performatively constitute themselves as morally distinct in their everyday discourses, particularly regarding norms of exchange and extraction with beneficiaries. While the interactional nature of rural development makes state and non-state workers both reliant on forms of social and material exchange with rural women, both state and non-state bureaucrats frame their work as unidirectional, and thus incommensurable with gifts or hospitality.

Eating people’s minds entails face-to-face interactions in meetings, which involve a range of communicative practices that together I refer to as “semiotic labor.” Semiotic labor attends to the fact that development practice is talk-mediated, but involves far more than the mere dissemination of information. My interlocutors framed this primarily through discourses of awareness (jagrukta), which was both a goal and an activity that brought rural citizens into relationships of obligation with development institutions. The kinds of semiotic labor that my interlocutors performed varied across state and non-state institutions, and could be located in the format and performance of meetings, which are the primary technology through which rural development workers enact the bureaucratic and developmental imperatives of their institutions outside of their physical offices.

While speakers in Kangra are members of a multilingual society and have diverse linguistic repertoires, they differ in their ideological and practical usage of the primary languages in Kangra: Pahari [Kangri] and Hindi. Whereas state bureaucrats tend to use Hindi, and NGO workers Pahari, they nevertheless share a common language ideological framework through which they cultivate a sense of moral conduct. This framework associates language not solely with communicative ends but also with affective consequences. By speaking (or claiming to speak) in Pahari with rural villagers, public servants cast themselves as both practically efficient and morally inclusive. Their actual use of languages, registers, and conversational strategies, as I will show in the next chapters, are not peripheral to the logics of developmental governance in Kangra, but instead are central to the constitution and circulation of ideas of need, deservingness, and prosperity that become the contested ideological ground upon which decisions about policy are made and maintained.

Caroline McKusick takes the page 99 test

I find myself, on page 99, in the middle of a crisis of translation. Unsurprising, given that my “in” to dissertation fieldwork resembled that of many anthropologists, who often find their place among their interlocutors as translators. In my case, working at an all-women news agency in Kurdistan, it was as a translator of a particular kind: of languages, but also of feminisms.

I first met the journalists of JINHA when I traveled to Turkey in 2013 to research the alarming crackdown on journalists, mostly radical Kurdish journalists, who were being tried on trumped-up charges of terrorist affiliation—which the Turkish state often uses to criminalize Kurdish communities by association with the Kurdish guerrilla, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). (Today, after the all-out war the Turkish state has waged on journalists since 2015, including shutting down JINHA and imprisoning its founder, the artist Zehra Doğan, those trials seem like a prelude.)

I was introduced to two journalists from the newly founded JINHA (Women’s News Agency). They were shocked that I, as a woman, was tagging along with their male colleagues rather than engaging with their all-women media project based in Diyarbakır, in Kurdistan. Soon enough I had signed on as their new English translator. It was my job to translate their stories, and with it their concept (formed through the Kurdish women’s movement) of “the world of women”—the world of everyday solidarities and resistance among women working to survive the patriarchy, often sidelined by what misogynistic journalism considered newsworthy.

It was my task to translate this world of women for “the women of the world,” and it was not easy. If I translated the news reports directly, they were illegible out of context. I grapple with this on page 99:

“Part of the problem, I realized, was present already in the Turkish-language original text (the bulk of JINHA’s output is composed in Turkish). These texts constantly had an imagined Turkish reader in mind. Of course they imagined a Kurdish reader, as well; the women who wrote them had a deep knowledge of Kurdish women’s experience, and wrote and worked out of a passion for the Kurdish women around them. But they also had a keen knowledge of the dominant group, Turkish women, whom they had seen on TV as the models of ‘womanhood’ since they were children, whom they had often grown up alongside in their urban Istanbul neighborhoods, or marched with in university. They could write equally for this audience as for Kurdish women. So in a way, the news itself was already being translated in its instance of creation into the respectability politics of state feminism, the Turkish left, and the feminisms of that context. It was into this already-tangled communication between ‘women of the world’ that I stepped, into its image of ‘womanhood’ that overrode all individual experiences to point out the shared suffering rather than the differences.”

I found myself bumping up against various intimate differences among women along class and racialized lines, which the category of woman was bridging. Over the course of my fieldwork, I absorbed JINHA’s urgency for translating the project of women’s journalism near and far, and took it upon myself to translate and select stories that I imagined might speak widely too. My dissertation ultimately argues that JINHA, through their newsmaking, crafted new kinds of women subjects, by making women speak as women, as part of an imagined community of women. As I became a translator of the world of women, I became crafted into this kind of subject myself.

Caroline McKusick. 2020. In the Kitchen: Kurdish Women Journalists and the Gendered Subject. University of California, Davis, Phd.

Caroline McKusick is currently Assistant Editor at Stanford University Press.

Jacqueline Hazen takes the page 99 test


The 99th page of my dissertation, “Mediating Micronesian Futures: Potentialities and Precarity in Cultural Production Among Mobile Pacific Islanders,” marks a transition in a chapter introducing how contemporary
people from the Federated States of Micronesia engage diverse media to connect on their home
islands and further afield. The chapter’s first sections follow a ritual sound from the island of
Pohnpei, FSM as it is deployed by Pohnpeians to continue its mediating work of gathering
participants in feast houses, but also to communicate respect during Pohnpeian radio broadcasts
and to engage diverse crowds at international events on Pohnpei and abroad. Page 99 moves
from tracing this enduring Pohnpeian mediator to broadly introducing other indigenous and
incorporated technologies in Micronesians’ media worlds. Faye Ginsburg, Brian Larkin, and Lila
Abu Lughod argue that analyzing ‘media worlds’ “situates media as a social practice within…
shifting political and cultural frames,” (2002: 3). The media worlds shaped by contemporary
Micronesians span islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and places in Guam, Hawai‘i,
and the continental United States where an estimated 1 in 3 FSM citizens and their diaspora-born
children travel, work, and live as legal non-immigrants. These transnational Micronesian media
worlds enlarge the scale of the transmission and transformations of cultural knowledge and
protocol, as well as valued materials. As articulated by Epeli Hau‘ofa, the contemporary
circulation of Pacific people, valued Oceanic foods and substances, and Western materials within
the Pacific and beyond move through long-held cultural patterns of families’ reciprocal
interdependence, but now between kin at home, in motion, and in diaspora (1993; see also Peter
2000; Gershon 2007, 2012).
People on Pohnpei and among the FSM diaspora on Guam narrated how they deploy
multiple communicative modalities in their work to maintain expected kinship roles from
a distance. This section presents types of modalities deployed across contemporary
Micronesians’ networks intertwined with my interlocutors’ narratives about
communication devices’ and media platforms’ roles in facilitating valued socioeconomic
exchanges that underlie practices of interdependent care and support among kin (Hau‘ofa
2008.) Further narratives describe negotiations around connectivity and respect in
communication across social media platforms, and diverse media modalities’
incorporation in processes of documenting and transmitting culturally-significant
knowledge, forms, and performances.

Page 99 then describes hand carried letters and packages on planes, and subsequent pages
discuss Micronesians’ narratives about culturally-inflected engagement with high-frequency, CB,
and satellite radios; families’ communal mobile phones; WhatsApp and Facebook; film and
digital photography; as well as camcorders and cell phone films.

I conducted my dissertation fieldwork with islanders on Pohnpei and with FSM diaspora on
Guam, indigenous home of the Chamoru and an unincorporated U.S. territory, during periods
from 2015 to 2018. Re-reading this page in 2021 — and later chapters about Pohnpeians’
digitized participation in mortuary and other rituals from afar — underscores how highly
diasporic populations have been shaping ways to participate in their families’ life events through
mediating technologies long before many governments’ social distancing mandates in 2020
widely necessitated digitally-mediated gatherings for celebrations and mourning in order to quell
the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Jacqueline Hazen. 2020. “Mediating Micronesian Futures: Potentialities and Precarity in Cultural Production Among Mobile Pacific Islanders.” New York University Phd.

Patrick Lewis takes the page 99 test

The 99th page of my dissertation, “Publics of Value: Higher Education and Language Activism in Turkey and North Kurdistan,” falls midway in my second chapter, where I seek to situate my primary field site – Turkey’s first state-recognized Kurdish-language university program at Artuklu University in Mardin – within the sociolinguistic realities of public life in the city and wider province, as well as within larger shifts in the political discourses and language practices of the Kurdish movement, Turkish state institutions, and local actors. This forms part of a larger discussion, developed over the first two chapters, that considers how differently positioned actors in Mardin and beyond have come to deploy Mesopotamia as a label designating a post-national, multicultural space that differentiates itself from conventional nationalist geographic imaginaries (such as Turkey or Kurdistan) and how this category is used to confer new value on multilingualism and Mardin’s local polyglot speech communities.

The first half of page 99 concludes a longer discussion of the analytical categories of language and speech communities and the dynamic interaction between the two (Gal 1988; Silverstein 1998). The second half begins to consider how this interaction has reshaped local language regimes in Mardin in recent decades, describing how:

“In Mardin, importantly, the values of Mesopotamia have been realized in relation to a dynamic language regime that is itself a product of a specific, if shifting sociohistorical spacetime – one in which Mesopotamia has come to represent both a validation of the values of Mardin’s speech community in relation to the nationalist projects of both the Turkey and Kurdistan and, conversely, the imposition of new linguistic projects by competing institutional forces (i.e. the Kurdish movement, the Turkish state, and the predominantly English- language domains of ‘global’ higher education and transnational tourism)” (pp. 99).

Considering the page in the context of the larger dissertation, I’m quite fortunate – within the terms of the ‘page 99 test’ – that it contains an important inflection point in my analysis with clear relevance for the larger work. Looking back a year after my defense, I can’t avoid detecting what now appear to me as moments of underdeveloped tangents, misplaced emphasis, and missed opportunities for greater clarification or precision – not to mention an ever-growing number of typos (page 99 being no exception). On the other hand, page 99 contains the seeds of two interrelated insights that I consider to be, in their fully developed form, among the work’s more important contributions: The first, inspired in part by the work by Woolard (2016) and others, is that Kurdish-language activism is not reducible to a paradigm of Kurdish nationalist politics, but embraces a range of political and social meanings that require further contextualization and explanation; and the second is that my Kurdish-language activist interlocutors, rather than proponents of predefined political or linguistic projects, are agentive actors working to remake the values of the Kurdish language in public life in ways that are generative of new identities, political subjectivities, and horizons of belonging. 

References:

Gal, Susan. “The Political Economy of Code Choice.” Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives 48 (1988): 245-64.

Silverstein, Michael. “Contemporary Transformations of Local Linguistic Communities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 27, no. 1 (1998): 401-426

Woolard, Kathryn. Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Shirley Yeung takes the page 99 test

The “quality of the whole” is uncannily revealed by the concluding paragraph on page 99 of my dissertation. It reads:

The institution I call The Migrant Center, then, is a key node of Genevan social life, expressive of an ethical horizon of hospitality. The Center’s activities bridge governmental, charitable, and civic domains, and its educational sectors offer, on the very same grounds, training in labour law for trade union delegates and elected labour court judges as well as afterschool math classes for job-seeking high schoolers. The Center’s French language learning program is thus part of a broader pedagogy of mobilization; the Migrant Center is a key translational site at which state categories and concepts of both “French” and “integration” are made commensurate with an ethics of solidarity.

I began my research in 2013 with an interest in the everyday pedagogical conditions, practices and discourses by which an official language of the state (here, French) is taught to immigrant and migrant learners. This, in a context where a then-emergent global discourse on migrant integration had constructed official, standardized language competences as the sign of successful integration into one’s host country, and where completing language tests and attending language classes were key discretionary bordering tools in the migration regimes of various European states.

Fieldwork at the institution I call The Migrant Center revealed the ways language pedagogy can become a site of mobility mediation and ethical-moral commensuration. The keywords I had come to associate with the state’s regimentation of language and cross-border movement—words like “French” and “integration”—were, at the Center, framed in the terms of solidarity. To be sure, at times, talk about French evoked historical discourses on the equalizing powers of the French language. At yet other times, however, the form and content of classroom discussions explicitly questioned the Genevan state’s monolingual logics of cross-border and social mobility. And among instructors, French held a contested status, not least because many teachers were first- and second-generation immigrants in Switzerland with their own multilingual trajectories. Their teaching, further, was unremunerated, reflective of local frameworks of volunteerism (bénévolat) which created ethical-moral substance for the Genevan polity in complex ways. As a volunteer at the school, navigating the blurry line between social critique and social reproduction became the condition of doing fieldwork.

Returning to Page 99 reminds me that perhaps teaching is a form of hospitality—one as complex as any other attempt to enact inclusion under conditions of closure. In my dissertation, I call this labour welcome work. Naming it this way has helped me to understand, somewhat long after writing, how to analytically sustain the contradictions of working at such sites of egalitarian aspiration—to situate, contextualize, and question any linguistically-premised equality, while also creating space to understand the political possibilities of hospitable relations, relationships, and practice.  

Shirley Yeung. 2020. “Welcome Work: Hospitality and the Mediation of Migrant Mobility in Swiss Integration Policy.” University of Michigan Phd.