Aurora Donzelli

on leave yearlong

BA, MA, University of Pavia, Italy. PhD, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. 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 in Lisbon, and Endangered Languages Academic Programme (SOAS) in London. SLC, 2009–

Previous Courses

Language and the Poetics of Emotions

Open , Seminar—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 are 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. 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—this course will explore the linguistic constitution of emotional experience and subjectivity. 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.

Related Disciplines

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

Intermediate , Seminar—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?

Related Disciplines

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

Open , Seminar—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.