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Accepted Paper:

The social life of Esperanto books: Circulating and making an international speech community  
Guilherme Fians (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses how communication technologies, currencies and border control policies have shaped the community of speakers of the Esperanto language. Based on the ethnography of an Esperanto bookshop in Rotterdam, I argue that international mobility is what constitutes this speech community.

Paper long abstract:

A language created in the late nineteenth-century Russian Empire, Esperanto was designed to encourage communication between people from different national and linguistic backgrounds. Sometimes conveyed as 'the language of the future' that would bring humankind together, or, alternatively, 'a language of the past' that failed to become global, Esperanto is, for most of its speakers, part of their everyday practices. Through an ethnography of the Universal Esperanto Association's bookshop, in the Netherlands, I argue that the effectively international use of this landless language relies on technologies that enable the circulation of people and things.

Following the packing and shipping of books for the 102nd Universal Congress of Esperanto, held in South Korea in 2017, this paper outlines how Esperanto books are written by authors from all over the world, translated from and into several languages, and, in this case, packed into boxes that 'have travelled more than many people.' While the practices of accountability deployed by the main person responsible for the bookshop aim at providing Esperanto literature to an international readership, this attempt to reach and map out this readership coincides with the circulation of people who travel annually to attend these annual international Esperanto meetings. Through shipping books abroad with the use of different communication technologies and currencies and passing through border control, the bookshop salesperson is not only making materials available to a certain public but, mostly, partaking of the labour that continuously (re)create and (re)produce the community of those who speak this non-compulsory, non-national language.

Panel P063
Everyday mobilities and circulation of people, things and ideas: Expanding the concept of technology from what makes us mobile [ANTHROMOB]