Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Abstract: This ongoing roundtable series, designed to take advantage of localized media and activist knowledge and participation, brings together journalists and linguists/anthropologists to discuss timely issues of language, representation, public discourse, social responsibility, and critique. Key themes over the past several years include the roles of the news media and the academy in the production of public discourse, the extent to which academics can influence practice, identification of knowledge gaps in the two professions and their role in the larger fostering of social awareness, and discussion of “representation politics” regarding communities. The topic for 2019 pertains to the arts and public action, and the media's and the academy's roles in that regard, especially as it pertains to environment and social ecologies.
The "arts and public action" theme in relation to media (broadly construed) raises numerous questions about the role of the arts in society; how the media come into play; the work that linguists/anthropologists can do across numerous analytical focal points (performance, representation, interaction, social economies and scale, story-telling, narrative framing, critique, expertise, historical memory, etc.); how “the arts” are constituted and sustained; the complex social ecologies they inhabit; and the extent to which the media ascribe agency to art as part of protest.
Participants, whether linguist, journalist, anthropologist, or performance ethnographer, will present case examples from their own ethnographic contexts and communities in Canada, Egypt, Ireland, South Africa, Thailand, and the UK and USA. These include: the media coverage of art, representation and The Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) in relation to the surge in "famine walks" in Ireland, the USA and Canada; the Public Theater in New York and how its mission “of, by, and for the people” has been realized and reported within its source and target communities and through mainstream media; a collaborative community arts project in Devon (UK) that has focused on both climate change awareness and social ecology and the manner in which an “invitation” ethos has expanded and reinforced local network links; and arts reporting in North America, how it has fared, and why it matters.
Other cases pertain to art and message and how creative forms are used to create political or public-serving content: “Street art and agency in an era of protest” draws on Egyptian street art to show how Western news media report on graffiti, noting what agency is given to overtly political art; “Lahu language music videos” show how Lahu identity and language maintenance are emphasized across the Lahu-speaking world, from northern Thailand and southwestern China and beyond; and a performance ethnographer, touring a play in South Africa drawn from fieldnotes and interviews on women’s experiences of vulnerability in activist collectives, will speak to questions regarding what constitutes an “arts event” and the insights that performance affords.
Professional Divides VII continues previous discussions in San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and San Jose in which academics, area journalists, and community activists address topical issues, problematizing the discursive practices of anthropology alongside media and identifying loci for responsibility, impact, and change.