Department of Anthropology

James Slotta


Assistant ProfessorPh.D., University of Chicago

James Slotta

Contact

Interests


Communication, language, politics, knowledge, epistemology; Melanesia, Papua New Guinea

Biography


Publications

Slotta, James. 2017. Can the subaltern listen? Self-determination and the provisioning of expertise in Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 44(2): 328-340.

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2017. Uphill and downhill in a flat world: The conceptual topography of the Yupno house. Cognitive Science 41: 768-799.

Slotta, James. 2016. Slang and the semantic sense of identity. Texas Linguistics Forum 59: 119-128.

Slotta, James. 2015. The perlocutionary is political: Listening as self-determination in a Papua New Guinean polity. Language in Society 44(4): 525-552.

Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2015. Named relations: A universal in the pragmatics of reference within the kin group. Proceedings of CLS 51, 165-179. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

Slotta, James. 2015. Phatic rituals of the liberal democratic polity: Hearing voices in the hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(1): 130-160.

Slotta, James. 2014. Revelations of the world: Transnationalism and the politics of perception in Papua New Guinea. American Anthropologist 116(3): 626–642.

Cooperrider, Kensy, Rafael Núñez, and James Slotta (2014). The protean pointing gesture: Variation in a building block of human communication. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 355-360). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Slotta, James. 2012. Dialect, trope, and enregisterment in a Melanesian speech community. Language & Communication 32: 1-13.      doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2011.11.003

Courses


ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

30580-30615 • Spring 2018
Meets MW 11:00AM-12:00PM BEL 328

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 307 • Culture And Communication-Hon

30725 • Spring 2018
Meets MW 1:00PM-2:30PM SAC 4.118

Language is not only one of the quintessential attributes of “the human,” it plays a role in virtually everything we do. Yet we typically do not pay much attention to what it is that language does and how it does what it does. And when we do, language and its use in communication often appear lacking: it is disparaged as little more than an (imperfect) reflection of reality, as a medium incapable of adequately conveying thoughts, emotions, and experiences, or as a hollow activity devoid of significance (“all talk and no action”).

In this course, we look at language not as an inadequate version of some more fundamental reality, but as a medium that constitutes and mediates reality for us as cultural beings living and acting in a social environment. Here we concentrate on two broad areas of concern: 1) language as a medium of social action, through which humans create & transform themselves and the world around them and 2) language as a medium of conceptualization, which provides a privileged lens on (or even constitutes a part of) mind. Attempts to understand language as a reflection of cognition divorced from sociocultural life and attempts to understand social life as composed of non-conceptual, biological drives are equally limited from this perspective. The perspective on language developed here locates language squarely in culture and society and at the same time locates sociocultural life “in” language and communication.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

31190-31215 • Fall 2017
Meets MW 12:00PM-1:00PM CLA 0.126

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 320L • Polit/Polity/Power Of Words

31415 • Fall 2017
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:30AM SAC 4.118

Politicians are often decried as being “all talk and no action,” a criticism that draws on a familiar view of language that contrasts “real” actions—the proper concern of politics—with “mere” words. And yet, “real” political actions, from the founding of nation-states (“We the People…”) to the transformation of polities (“I have a dream…”), rest on the power of “mere” words. In this course, we look at the place of language in a variety of different political settings—from oblique oratory in small-scale egalitarian communities to ritual “poetry” in cosmic polities to procedural prose in mass bureaucratic states—to come to a better understanding of the power of words. Working with a broad understanding of politics, we look at the varied ways language sustains and transforms power relations in different political contexts, and thereby takes on a power of its own. In the process, we explore a variety of political situations, different modes of political communication, as well as different theories of the “performative” power of words.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology-Honors

31115 • Spring 2017
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM SAC 4.118

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 320L • Lang Endangerment/Rights

31225 • Spring 2017
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM SAC 4.174
(also listed as LIN 373)

The 21st century, linguists say, will see the “death or doom” of 90 percent of the world’s languages. In response, non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists have responded with campaigns to preserve and revitalize “dying” languages. At the same time, lawyers, legislators, and political theorists have built the groundwork for the
recognition of “language rights” as a tool for defending small-scale and minority language communities against the spread of national and global languages. In this course, we examine such efforts in order to ask: why does the idea of language death inspire all of this work and attention? What is “a language” – what properties are seen to inhere in language – that drives these activities? Here we will explore views of language that underpin the anxieties and efforts of the language rights and revitalization movements: from the place of language in the 19th and 20th century politics of national autonomy to the role of language as a repository of worldviews and an emblem of our shared humanity. In the process, we see how “language” and distinct “languages” are situated at the center of Western imaginations of community and moral anxieties over autonomy, with all of the political and ethical implications that result for people who are recognized as having their own language as well as those who recognize the “languagedness” of others.

ANT 302 • Cultural Anthropology

30990-31025 • Fall 2016
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:00PM ART 1.102

This course provides an introduction to cultural anthropology, the inductive study of the human condition insofar as it is shaped by our social surround. To this end, anthropologists investigate humanity in all of its variety, developing methods of data collection and analysis, conceptual frameworks, and modes of presentation that are, ideally, adequate to capturing what it means to be human. In this course, we look at social formations both familiar (the nation, the nuclear family) and unfamiliar (the clan, the patrilocal residence group) alongside the cultural values and beliefs that motivate these social formations. We ask: where do values, beliefs, and identities “live”? What practices create, sustain, and transform these values and beliefs?

At the same time, we bring anthropological methods to bear on our own lives to examine how we are embedded in and influenced by social, political, historical and cultural environments in ways that we often do not realize. We challenge our own beliefs about the nature of humanity and society, about the moral and immoral, about the valuable and valueless through careful attention to the wide diversity of ways in which humans live. How do humans’ construct their socio-cultural environment? What becomes striking about our own social lives when set alongside the social life of others? What aspects of our socio-cultural surround are particularly potent in shaping the way we live?

The course aims 1) to develop students’ ability to approach social life as “ethnographers” – that is, to empathize with  people through careful attention to their social and cultural surround, and to recognize ourselves as part of particular social and cultural worlds; and 2) to develop the ability to read academic arguments—and anthropological arguments, in particular—that mobilize evidence and reasons in support of particular, “surprising” claims.

ANT 307 • Culture And Communication

31120 • Fall 2016
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM CLA 0.112

The ability to learn and use language is a quintessentially human characteristic—one that distinguishes homo sapiens from other animal species. Language is simultaneously generated through and generative of social life; the former is a primary resource that we humans use in both the structuring and accomplishment of the latter. These dynamics form the subject of study of linguistic anthropology.

This course is an introduction to linguistic anthropology. It is impossible in a single semester to provide a complete overview of all topics that linguistic anthropologists address, so this course covers selected topics, the selection of which is aimed to illustrate how linguistic anthropologists go about doing their work: the range of topics they examine, the kinds of questions they ask, the types of approaches and methods they utilize, and the sorts of conclusions they reach.

Publications


Slotta, James. 2017. Can the subaltern listen? Self-determination and the provisioning of expertise in Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 44(2): 328-340.

Cooperrider, Kensy, James Slotta, and Rafael Núñez. 2017. Uphill and downhill in a flat world: The conceptual topography of the Yupno house. Cognitive Science 41: 768-799.

Slotta, James. 2016. Slang and the semantic sense of identity. Texas Linguistics Forum 59: 119-128.

Slotta, James. 2015. The perlocutionary is political: Listening as self-determination in a Papua New Guinean polity. Language in Society 44(4): 525-552.

Fleming, Luke and James Slotta. 2015. Named relations: A universal in the pragmatics of reference within the kin group. Proceedings of CLS 51, 165-179. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

Slotta, James. 2015. Phatic rituals of the liberal democratic polity: Hearing voices in the hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(1): 130-160.

Slotta, James. 2014. Revelations of the world: Transnationalism and the politics of perception in Papua New Guinea. American Anthropologist 116(3): 626–642.

Cooperrider, Kensy, Rafael Núñez, and James Slotta (2014). The protean pointing gesture: Variation in a building block of human communication. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 355-360). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Slotta, James. 2012. Dialect, trope, and enregisterment in a Melanesian speech community. Language & Communication 32: 1-13.      doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2011.11.003

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