Linguistic and semiotic anthropology: contributions to the twenty-first century
Steve Coleman (National University of Ireland)
John Leavitt (Université de Montréal)
Paul Friedrich
Katherine E. Hoffman
Salle des thèses B15
Wednesday 11 July, 11:30-13:15, 14:30-16:15, Thursday 12 July, 9:00-10:45 (UTC+0)

Short abstract:

Linguistic anthropology emphasizes fine-grained analysis of communicative events embedded in, and transformative of, sociocultural contexts. It has transcended epistemological uncertainties based on reified notions of "grammar" and "structure", seeing these instead as emergent in social life.

Long abstract:

This workshop explores the contributions which linguistic anthropology can make to the discipline as a whole. As an established subdiscipline, linguistic anthropology has made theoretical and methodological advances, particularly in response to the disquieting and well-publicised "epistemological crises" and critiques of ethnography in the 1980s. These critiques, over-emphasising the systemic nature of social and cultural processes, including models of culture-as-text and culture-as-grammar, claimed that anthropology had lost its epistemological object, and this loss was to have been replaced by an ethnographic self-consciousness or by an assimilation of what had been assumed to be distinctive cultural patterns to epiphenomena of world-wide economic and political processes. But the view of language, culture, and grammar which underlay these critiques was, ironically, never that of linguistic anthropology.

Rather than seeing culture and society in general as essentially and abstractly "language-like," linguistic anthropologists have, for example, focused on the gestural and objectual aspects of language insofar as it is involved in particular, concrete acts of expression, and the ways that these acts are constituted as sociocultural practice. Instead of saying that culture and society are texts or grammars, linguistic anthropologists have focused on the dynamic lives texts within cultures and societies.

These papers demonstrate that, while linguistic anthropology is a broad and multifaceted discipline, at its core it has focused on the traditional strength of ethnography — highly contextualized, fine-grained analysis of on-the-ground events— in a constant back-and-forth with more general theory.