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. 


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.

Mei-Chun Lee takes the page 99 test

At the bottom of page 99 in my dissertation “The ‘Nobody’ Movement: Digital Activism and the Uprising of Civic Hackers in Taiwan” is a quote from the g0v (pronounced gov-zero) manifesto: Built on the spirit of the open-source community, g0v stands for freedom of speech and information transparency. We aim to use technology in the interest of the public good, allowing citizens easy access to vital information. Opening up and making data public allows the people of Taiwan to take a closer look at politics and important issues. This gives them the tools needed to evaluate their government and exert their democratic right to influence government actions.

g0v, the focus of this dissertation, is a Taiwan-based civic tech community that intervenes and subverts bureaucratic government through the technological translation of openness. Replacing the letter “o” in “government” with the number “0” to indicate the computer binary zero and one, the name “g0v” signifies both their hacker identity and the grassroots, bottom-up approach of activism. This quote on page 99 vividly encapsulates the multiplicity and equivocation of openness. Here we see openness is translated into open source technologies, freedom, transparency, public, and democracy. Openness is both the means (open source technology and open data) and the ends (civic participation and democracy). Its rich meaning provides the room for these hackers to improvise their political actions amid the changing political environment.

Later in the dissertation, I also reveal that the equivocation of openness can lead to tension and conflicts in this decentralized community especially when some participants started to connect and collaborate with hierarchical organizations such as companies, NGOs, and the government. The most renowned case is Audrey Tang, one of the most active g0v participants who was later appointed as Taiwan’s first digital minister in 2016. While Tang’s government appointment allows her to push open data and public-private collaboration further from within the government, this also leads to the institutionalization of openness and devours g0v’s political space. To tackle this community crisis, g0v participants maneuver within translations of openness in order not to be depoliticized. It is in the process of contesting openness that g0v takes a parasitic position between inside and outside, continuity and disruption, collaboration and resistance in order to keep on making politics.

The quote on page 99 is where I took an initial clue before delving into the translations of openness. As the manifesto and the idea of openness continue to appeal to young generations in Taiwan, we must continue examining how openness is conceived, discussed, practiced, and envisioned towards a techno-political future.

Mei-Chun Lee. 2020. The ‘Nobody’ Movement: Digital Activism and the Uprising of Civic Hackers in Taiwan. University of California, Davis Phd.

Mathew Gagne take the page 99 test

While page 99 of my dissertation (see below) seems far from its focus on sex apps and digital media among queer men in Beirut, the connection is palpably beneath silence as an analytic of queer freedom and possibility within dense social constraints put upon queer intimacies. Silence, as the strategic offspring of constraint, suggests a struggle between violent social homophobias and the everydayness of gay sex and intimacy in Beirut. In the digital age, this queer silence is never perfectly achieved because of all the personal and sexual information queer men circulate within dense networks of sex app users who could be anyone behind the screen. Perhaps silence has never been perfectly achievable, but just a tool within liberalism for striving toward the idyllic antonym of constraint: freedom. While silence may structure queer men’s interactions within heteronormative time and space, this dissertation examines how men use sex apps and social media to bombastically announce their queer desires and arrange gay sex within the everydayness of Lebanese cultural politics and social constraints.

This research examines how, over three decades of telecommunications’ infrastructure development in Lebanon, gay sex has become more integrated into men’s everyday lives. I argue that gay sex in Beirut is not extraordinary simply because it exists against a set of marginalizing forces, but rather that it is ordinary because of its imbrication in everyday life, habits, and routines via the functions and structures of digital media, and all manners of communicating in the digital age. Via ethnography, I map the media practices, logics, meanings, categories, and debates queer men in Beirut have developed to live with one another sexually and relationally. I show how men’s engagements with sexy information – those pieces of information men circulate to describe themselves and their desires to others – has shifted the social and political conditions of queer male intimate life in Beirut. Information encompasses a set of political questions about queerness in Middle East: the degree to which men’s information ought to reproduce Lebanese cultural politics within their intimate lives or enable novel and unexpected formations to fuel new kinds of everyday intimate possibilities.

My page 99:

Through Rasa, Haddad connects queer secrecy and discretion to the Arabic word ‘eib, which roughly translates as shame, but is more: it encompasses a broad moral order that structures everyday social relations. He writes, “the implication of ‘eib is kalam el-nas, what will people say, and so the word carries an element of conscientiousness, a politeness brought about by a perceived sense of communal obligation… I’ve come to realize that if worn correctly, the cloak of ‘eib is large and malleable enough to allow you to conceal many secrets and to repel intrusive questions” (Haddad 2016: 26). In Lebanon, family members and family friends know a lot about one’s life, and ask detailed, prying questions. And men have to devise plausible stories for how strangers enter their lives. To Haddad, ‘eib speaks to a queer freedom based on silence. If one does not talk about one’s queerness, families and social networks do not inquire, thereby not stirring speculation and gossip as a form of policing within a moral order. I recall one man, Khadim, in his late 30s who thought that because of his Arabness, people would not accept him if he came out, and he would lose his job as an educator. So, he, like many other men, was selective with who he told. He cultivated a feeling of security before he disclosed his sexuality by carefully raising the topic and testing reactions. He particularly chose people he trusted not to disclose his sexuality to others. He also did not want to disappoint and possibly cause physical trauma to his ailing mother, for whom he was in Lebanon to care (he received Canadian residency a few years before but never emigrated). There is a strong social obligation to remain tied to the family and to be there to support the family, through material, financial and emotional means. Khadim empties Lebanese homophobia (as Merabet [2014a] calls it) from its cultural and historical meaning, reducing it to a quality of being Arab. Discretion is not always out of fear of risk, but also sometimes an act of love and care.

Mathew Gagne. 2020. Gay Sex and Digital Media in Beirut: The Social and Erotic Life of Information. University of Toronto Phd.

Nathan Wendte takes the page 99 test

I was intrigued to hear about the “page 99 test,” according to which, the quality of a dissertation can be judged on the content of page 99. As a jaded recent PhD graduate, I have a thing or two to say about the dissertation as a genre, and this test seemed like a good springboard for such a discussion. So first, I present a screenshot of what I believe to be the heart of my dissertation’s page 99:

I have to say, I was less repulsed by this excerpt than I initially feared I would be. The paragraph comes towards the beginning of my methodology chapter where I am introducing the reader to nexus analysis (Scollon and Scollon 2004), a combination of ethnographic and discourse analytical procedures aimed at understanding social practices. In my case, the social practice was ethnolinguistic labelling among Creoles of the Gulf South (Wendte 2020). It is fair to say that this is an important paragraph–clearly defining these terms sets the stage for their operationalization in the remainder of the dissertation. But when performing the test, should we be evaluating the content itself or its characteristics (organization, clarity, and so on)? If we are to evaluate the content, then no, I would have to say that page 99 is not representative of the whole dissertation. Put simply, you still have no idea what it is about based on this page. But if we are evaluating the characteristics of the content (its quality, if you like), then I would humbly hope that it is representative of the whole dissertation. The opacity of the dissertation as a genre meant that I went to a lot of trouble trying to keep it readable and accessible. Page 99 bears some of the fingerprints of this heavy editing process, and I am proud to see them there.


Scollon, Ron, and Suzie Wong Scollon. 2004. Nexus Analysis: Discourse and the Emerging Internet. London ; New York: Routledge.

Wendte, Nathan A. 2020. “A Tale of Two Triangles: Ethnolinguistic Identity among Gulf South Creoles.” PhD, New Orleans, LA: Tulane University.

Thandeka Cochrane takes the page 99 test

In the middle of the page a line jumps out:

Nthanu telling, therefore, encapsulates a moral performance”.

Lying at the centre of page 99 this line also lies at the centre of the chapter that holds it, chapter 2, ‘Speaking Stories: Declining (m)orality? Orature, schools and elites’. The chapter tries to understand the purpose and role of a particular form of oral literature, nthanu, in rural village communities in northern Malawi, the small African country where I spent 18 months doing my fieldwork. In this chapter, and over the thesis as a whole, I am trying to solve a puzzle:

What do stories do, I wonder? Why do we tell stories to children? What does it do to us to grow up with particular kinds of stories? How do stories create the people(s) we become?

My thesis starts with a quote by the Nigerian novelist Ben Okri, in which he warns, “Beware the stories you read or tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”

This is what my thesis is trying to understand, how the stories we encounter as children, quite veritably our ‘children’s stories’, alter our world.

Initially, I had gone to Malawi to study early childhood development centres (ECD) – specifically the English language children’s fairytale books that are brought to these centres as donations. But, as is so often the case in anthropology, the village landscape that was to be my fieldsite had dramatically changed since I had last been there. The ECD centres were gone, and so my fieldwork inevitably shifted, from the centres to the books themselves. In searching for these books, I discovered a hidden world of village libraries, some beautifully built and stocked full of thousands of books, some barely remembered, filled with tattered books and dust motes lying behind crumbling doors.

In exploring children’s books in libraries, I also encountered the rich world of oral literature of the communities I lived in, in particular the stories used for teaching children, nthanu. Like in many societies across the world, nthanu, were fireside stories, told to huddled groups of children and adults who would sit around listening to them after evening meals. These days, very few tell the stories – something that was perceived by many I spoke to as a bitter loss. These stories, people told me, were enormously important. Not just for entertainment, but for building who they believed they were.

For my interlocutors, children’s stories were, and are, the means through which they create a moral community of belonging. They were, and are, also the means through which the political, social and moral codes of the society are transmitted. As one young woman told me,  “[nthanu] taught us how to live in a society, it taught us how to live, how to communicate, it was stories that told us what was life […] that’s what it taught us: oneness […] Gogu’s (grandmother’s) stories wanted to relate to us that this world is not just for us”.

These oral stories, therefore, transmit an entire moral and social code that lies at the heart of not just sociality, but at what it means to be human. Telling children stories at night is telling them who they are.

What then does page 99 tell us about my thesis? It is a somewhat convoluted, slightly over-technical discussion of what the performance of oral literature could mean in a rural village setting in northern Malawi – fitting for a thesis that sometimes loses itself in over-theorisations. But it is also a page that suggests one of the central arguments of my thesis; that the stories we tell are a fundamental part of the creation of our moral universes. And if we alter the stories we tell, we will alter our moral universe.

Thandeka Cochrane. 2020. Epistemic entanglements in an age of universals: literacy, libraries and children’s stories in rural Malawi. University of Cambridge, Phd. thesis.

Amy Garey takes the page 99 test

 Page 99 of my dissertation ends with a quote from a 2019 comedy festival, “KVN is, KVN lives, KVN will continue to live!” It sums up one of the strands of this research, which examines how a popular student game came to be both banned and supported by the Soviet state, both politically subversive and ideologically conservative, both grassroots phenomenon and media spectacle. KVN, an acronym for Klub Veselykh i Nakhodchivykh, or “Club of the Cheerful and Clever,” is a Soviet-bloc team comedy competition. It began in 1961 as a televised improv show, but students across the USSR soon adopted the game in their universities, organizing interdepartmental competitions and city-wide leagues. Students grew to love KVN because comedy helped them, as octogenarian Ukrainian Eduard Chechelnitsky put it, ”get round” the censors: young people could critique the state nonreferentially, voicing sentiments no one would allow in direct speech. Most, though, simply wanted to laugh and make others laugh. While competitors made (and make) political jokes, and while many found value in a forum that let them speak truth to power, it is humor that attracted participants.

Jokes worried Soviet ideologues, though, and in 1972 officials banned KVN—at least on television. But by that time KVN had spread to schools, universities, and summer camps from Kiev to Bishkek, and people openly played throughout the fourteen-year period of the “ban.” In interviews, KVNshiki (as participants are called) stressed triumph and autonomy as they described the game: KVN is ours, they seemed to say, not the state’s.

KVN’s extra-state nature has been highlighted by the war between Russia and Ukraine. Although Ukrainians and Russians no longer compete against each other, as they had before 2014, KVN remains as popular as it ever has been in domestic Ukrainian competitions. KVN lives. That millions of young people still play a game that began as a hokey 1960s Soviet game show, despite prohibitions, despite border closures, means something, socially. A lot of KVNshiki, beyond liking to laugh, believe in the personally and politically transformative potential of comedy. Page 99 illustrates some of the ways they renew those principles in everyday practice.

Amy Garey. 2020. The People’s Laughter: War, Comedy, and the Soviet Legacy. University of California, Los Angeles, Phd.