Aurora Donzelli

BA, MA, University of Pavia, Italy. PhD, University of Milan-Bicocca. Special interests in linguistic anthropology, political oratory and ritual speech, vernacular practical philosophies, ethnopoetics, missionization, and the emergence of colonial discourse genres; ethnographic fieldwork in Southeast Asia (upland Sulawesi and East Timor); author of several articles on language and ethnicity, local theories of action, power and emotions, verbal art, and language ideologies. FCT postdoctoral research fellow at Institute of Theoretical and Computational Linguistics, Lisbon, and Endangered Languages Academic Programme (SOAS), London. SLC, 2009–

Previous courses

Cultures of the Colonial Encounter

Fall

Spanning several centuries, colonialism imposed Euro-American domination over vast areas of the Earth and over three-quarters of its population. In addition to transforming the world economies and geographies, colonialism produced complex and traumatic cultural encounters between indigenous peoples and the newcomers. Contrary to the common representation of colonial cultural contact as a process that resulted in the univocal transformation of the indigenous world, this course will try to show that colonial encounters reshaped the structures of practice and the systems of knowledge of the colonized, as well as of the colonizers. This approach will enable us to discover the hidden vulnerability of colonial power. We will learn that in order to understand the complex phenomena of domination, resistance, and mutual cultural mimicry prompted by the colonial encounter, it is essential to treat—as Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper suggest—“metropole and colony in a single analytic field.” Through a series of readings, we will explore how Europeans’ engagements with the inhabitants of the overseas colonies resulted in complex and ambiguous cultural formations that reveal the contested, fragmentary, and anxious nature of colonial knowledge and power. In addition to challenging traditional frameworks that represented the empire through a hierarchical geography of center and periphery and depict colonial encounters through a simplistic narrative of cultural loss, this course will argue for the need to analyze local histories, particular sites, and connections. Ranging from accounts of the encounters between Spanish Catholics and Yucatec Maya, Dutch Calvinist missionaries and Indonesian highlanders, Northwest Coast Indians and Euro-Americans to the study of colonial photography in the Philippines during US rule, the transformations of the caste system in India during the British rule, and the dynamics of labor relations between white managers and Asian workers in a Sumatran rubber plantation during Dutch colonialism, the selected readings will offer concrete cases of colonial encounters. Drawing on visual documents, ethnographic and historical accounts, novels, and critical theory, students will explore how local bodies of scientific knowledge, moral and aesthetic philosophies, cultural theories of sexuality, language usages and ideologies, and social identities, as well as religious notions and practices, were transformed through the asymmetries of the colonial encounter. This ethnographic journey will help us understand that, while colonialism was a global system, the study of its local-specific modes of operation is key to avoid creating a unitary narrative for diverse experiences and realities. Unearthing the durability of colonial history in our contemporary world, this journey will also enable us to appreciate the importance of a critical study of colonialism for the understanding of how colonial pasts bear on people’s present lives and future options.

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Global Flows and Frictions in Southeast Asia and Beyond

Year

“Globalization” has proliferated in scholarly and popular discourse since the early 1990s as a term referring to both the perception of the world’s enhanced interconnectedness and the increasing circulation of capital, labor, commodities, humans, and ideologies across national borders. For almost three decades, our minds have been preoccupied with defining, understanding, and assessing these structural and cultural transformations: What is unprecedented about globalization, and how does it resemble older forms of interconnection? How does what Ulf Hannerz (1992) called the “global ecumene” impact our historical consciousness? Should we imagine ourselves as the protagonists of a narrative of never-ending progress or as the inhabitants of the ruins of modernity? Drawing on a methodology originally designed to provide holistic, contextual, and fine-grained analyses of small and (preferably) self-enclosed communities, anthropologists have been seeking to explore the cultural underpinnings of global connections. Divided on whether to read globalization as an enhancement of complexity or as a form of cultural erosion, they have been exploring the effects of large-scale global transformations on local identities and on people's everyday lives. What are the aesthetic, cultural, and existential implications of a world where “difference is encountered in the adjoining neighborhood [and] the familiar turns up at the ends of the earth” (Clifford 1988)? Anthropological engagements with these questions have expanded our definitions of culture; rather than conceiving it as attached to and defining of particular groups of people, we have become skilled ethnographers of mobile, unstable, and deterritorialized “global cultural flows.” In this quest for more sophisticated theoretical tools to tackle the dynamics of contemporary cultural encounters, we have been confronted with the option of viewing globalization through metaphors of liquid flows or through the images of the clash of cultures. However, both models have their pitfalls in their incapacity to account for “awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (Tsing 2005). Focusing on global encounters in Southeast Asia, this course will engage intriguing ethnographic examples of what Tsing termed cultural frictions. Rather than postulating simplistic, binary oppositions between clear-cut cultural formations or pervasive and unimpeded flows of goods, ideas, and people, we will explore concrete instances of unequal exchanges emerging from unexpected intersections among global, national, and local forces. We will read about religious conversion and shifting notions of humanity in the encounter between Calvinist missionaries and Indonesian highlanders, changing experiences of sexuality among Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong, and contemporary transformations of notions of gender and morality in urban Indonesia. We will explore the impact of the global touristic market on local notions of cosmopolitanism in Thailand and the impact of new technologies on the shaping of new conceptions of the moral person in Oceania. We will discuss instances of spirit possession in Malaysian multinational corporations and development-induced displacement in Laos, as well as the interplay of agreement and misunderstanding in the encounters among North American investors, NGO workers, and the inhabitants of the Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest. Through this anthropological journey, students will be exposed to key debates within the study of cosmopolitanism and will experience firsthand some of the challenges underlying ethnographic engagements with globalization.

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Language and the Poetics of Emotions

Spring

How do language and communicative practices shape emotional experience? What are emotions, and how can we study them ethnographically? How do our everyday ways of interacting create emotional meaning? This course focuses on the role of language and communicative dynamics in mediating and shaping emotional experience. Since the early 1990s, influential works in linguistic and cultural anthropology have questioned universalizing views of emotion, advocating the idea that emotions are linguistic and sociocultural constructs grounded in historical and local specific contexts. These studies have challenged approaches to emotions based on binary oppositions (i.e., mind versus body and emotion versus reason) as reflected, for example, in popular and scholarly tendencies of associating emotions with stereotypical images of femininity seen in opposition and hierarchical relations to reason (or rationality). Another line of research has explored the co-articulation between the linguistic expression of emotions and the process of subject formation, highlighting how certain ways of speaking may generate or challenge moral dispositions, domains of experience, and structures of feelings. Throughout the semester, students will engage a series of ethnographic case studies aimed at exploring the nexus of language, emotions, and everyday cultural practices. This course will explore the linguistic constitution of emotional experience and subjectivity, ranging from the relation between ideologies of gender and linguistic styles of affective expression in the Pacific to the intersection of romantic love, marriage practices, and the development of literacy in Nepal; from the connection between emotional ethos and styles of religious devotion in Indonesia and Mexico to the poetic expressions of resistance in Egypt and Nigeria; and from the analysis of the emotion in doctor/patient interactions to the study of dynamics of popularity and exclusion among American teenagers. Our aim will be to explore the linguistic poetics of emotions and the cultural politics of affect to expand our understanding of the significance of language in shaping our world.

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Love in the Time of Neoliberalism: Grammars of Affect and Cultures of Capitalism

Fall

A defining feature of the contemporary moment has been a radicalization of market ideologies and corporate culture. A series of profound transformations that occurred in the last 40 years have produced a new configuration of the world’s political-economic order—variously referred to as “globalized new economy,” "late capitalism," or “neoliberalism.” Analyses of the neoliberal age usually focus on political, economic, and structural transformations but often fail to consider the impact that these processes have on the everyday and on our intimate modes of experience. This course suggests that there is great analytic promise in the study of how institutional transformations co-articulate with the affective and moral lives of individuals. Moving from the idea that all great transformations “must be affective in order to be effective,” we will thus engage the languages and cultures of neoliberalism and explore how the relation between structures and sentiments has been impacted by capitalist rationality and neoliberal morality. Rather than conceiving neoliberalism as a political and economic doctrine, our anthropological journey into the contemporary reorganization of affect will promote an understanding of neoliberalism as a structure of action—and as a form of practical conduct that is—as a “way of doing things.” Drawing on a series of hands-on exercises and a combination of theoretical and ethnographic readings from various cultural settings, we will discuss how global forces have been affecting public and private expressions of love, friendship, and sexuality. We will explore the novel aesthetics of desires and pleasures emerging in North America and the Global South and the new romantic vocabularies originating from the digital transformations of love and companionship. And we will reflect on the forces underlying the contemporary commodification of emotions. While learning about specific examples of the neoliberal political economy of intimacy, we will engage broader theoretical questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend externally generated by the homogenizing forces of Late Western Capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life? Or is there a way of looking at the current hypertrophic expansion of market logics that can reveal hidden fissures and unlock a potential for emancipatory expression?

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The Power of Words: Language, Hegemony, and Social Inequality

Fall

Language is such a pervasive component of our everyday lives that we often tend to forget the complex power dynamics that are always embedded in humans’ engagements with language. We tend to naturalize and overlook the power-laden nature of communication and to assume that language is a neutral and objective system of signs apt at enabling the transmission of information. But what is the relationship between language and social status? What is the role of certain discursive representation of reality in reproducing or challenging the status quo? Why are certain languages considered to be better and more prestigious than others? How can certain conversational practices contribute to the reproduction of gender inequalities and racial stereotypes? What were the implications of colonization for the indigenous languages of the populations that experienced Euro-American colonial domination? What is the role of world Englishes in today’s globalized world? Through a series of readings, we will discuss the varied and sometimes surprising interconnections among language, power, and social inequality. Students will explore topics such as the role of linguistic ideologies in the colonial enterprise; the historical production of an official standard language and the construction of hegemonic power; the unequal power relations often at stake in multilingual contexts; the role of language in crafting representations of people’s identities; the contemporary debates on the loss of indigenous languages, linguistic revitalization movements, and other activist efforts; the impact of language-based discrimination and the role of linguistic parodies as a form of cultural resistance; as well as the social and political life of words as they travel across global networks of power and meaning.

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The Power of Words: The Linguistic Imagination Between Emancipation and Domination

Year

A long-standing tradition within Western thought has conceptualized language as a symbolic code clearly separate from material reality and aimed at enabling human communication. The language/world divide has dominated scholarship across several disciplines, leaking into common sense: “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” goes the old adage, “but words will never hurt me.” Words, according to this folk view, “are just words”; that is, they are sounds and concepts lacking the potential to affect the world. This yearlong course explores and questions the view (popular and scholarly alike) according to which language is exclusively a system of symbols that stand for and allow speaking about the world. A series of theoretical readings, practical exercises, and ethnographic case studies will generate a reflection on how language partakes in the making of human experience and social reality. Through this journey, language will appear as a form of action endowed with the power to shape the world and structure the production of social constructs such as race, class, and gender. The readings will be organized through two complementary narratives of gloomy domination and hopeful emancipation. During the first semester, we will explore how language contributes to reproducing social inequalities and racial stereotypes. This focus on the dynamics of linguistic marginality will shed light on language-based discrimination, enhancing our awareness of the role of communicative practices in the operations of hegemonic and colonial power. Through these at times discouraging accounts, we will decenter the idea of the sovereign speaking subject and discover how humans are often at the mercy of language. The readings for the second semester will aim, instead, at disclosing language’s creative and poetic potential, opening views on the capacity of words to mediate emotions and affect the world in transformative ways. While reading about linguistic revitalization movements and other language-driven forms of emancipation and resistance, we will learn about the role of language in challenging power relations. Throughout the year, we will engage foundational theories of language and communication, ranging from Saussure’s structuralism and Pierce’s semiotics to Speech Act Theory, from Whorf’s linguistic relativity to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of language, and from Bourdieu’s practice theory to Butler’s insights on linguistic performativity.

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