Department of Anthropology

Seminar Series: M. Eleanor Nevins

"Text Collections, Research Relations and Political Voice: The importance of Sticking with Problems of Ambivalence and Misunderstanding"

Mon, October 14, 2019 | WCP 5.118

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Seminar Series: M. Eleanor Nevins

With this talk I illustrate with examples from Maidu and Western Apache linguistic texts collections ways that text transcripts can illuminate the political struggles and the indigenous speaker – researcher (and anticipated audience) relationships through which they were produced.  Drawing upon phenomenological and dialogic approaches to fieldwork, I explore encounters, translations and exchanges between indigenous speakers and researchers, demonstrating that their relation is in many cases structured by regularized misunderstanding, by built-in differences of purpose.  The contextualizing strategies of ethnolinguistic researchers as they refine and circulate the texts of text collections has become better understood (Bauman and Briggs 2003, among others). Less attention has been paid to the contextualizing strategies of the indigenous speakers they worked with. In this talk I propose a two-prong approach for re-assessing, in political and ethical terms, our ethnolinguistic text collection legacy.  One prong is to backward-engineer some of the choices imposed upon text collections by disciplinary practices of the day, with the aim of undoing some of the colonial work of earlier ethnolinguistic research. The second prong is to look to the text transcripts themselves, to place them in the indigenous speaker-linguistic researcher relation, and to attend to the contextualizing cues of the speaker with respect to that relation and the wider audiences that it may portend.

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