University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
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‘Hip-hop across the globe: what exactly is going global?’
Since it first appeared on the American cultural scene as a three-pronged phenomenon combining music, break-dancing, and graffiti in the 1970’s, hip-hop has been related to the experience of race, and of American Blackness in particular. As a predominantly American phenomenon, hip-hop culture has been attracting the attention of journalists and the media for some time now. Moreover, theoretical analyses of hip-hop within various disciplines—including (ethno)musicology, sociology, race and gender studies—have been proposed. However, the systematic study of hip-hop language within established sociolinguistic paradigms, and the challenges it poses for their adequacy as well as its potential to lead to the emergence of new paradigms, have only recently begun to attract the interest of linguists and social theorists of language. Adding to the complexity of this phenomenon are global aspects of hip-hop culture: more than the domain of Black America, hip-hop has been spreading across national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries, quickly turning into an important vehicle, and primary research area, for globalization.
Discussant: Jannis Androutsopoulos (Universität Hannover,
The existence of a global hip-hop music scene encompassing artists from different countries working with different linguistic codes is by now a well attested phenomenon. What is less well understood, however, is what, if any, are the features of these local productions justifying their characterization as manifestations of a single global phenomenon. Is it a case of commonality of structural/thematic choices characterizing the end-products of these local productions? Or rather a case of similar processes by which these products come about, while the products themselves remain indisputably local and non-isomorphic? In the end, are we justified in talking about the global spread of hip-hop, or would it be best to talk of several local hip-hop cultures? Moreover, to what extent are the artists in question aware and influenced by each other’s production? Is it a case of mutual awareness and reciprocal influence, or is the directionality of the influence only one-way? Both views have been defended by scholars, with some seeing hip-hop as a vehicle of ‘Americanization’ while others as an expression of genuine, bottom-up ‘globalization.’
The proposed panel will explore linguistic manifestations of ethnicity in hip-hop culture across the globe, aiming to address a seeming contradiction: if American Blackness were all that hip-hop is about, why is it that this phenomenon has spread beyond national and transatlantic boundaries, taking roots in different cultures across the globe? Our aim is to tease out those components of hip-hop culture that have enabled it to transcend national, ethnic, social, religious and linguistic boundaries, transforming it into a testimonial act of subalterness and social protest. We will address these questions by bringing together papers that undertake detailed, micro-level analyses of actual rap lyrics and musicians’ attitudes from different countries in order to discover potential commonalities in their choices and in the attitudes expressed. Different theoretical frameworks may be brought to bear to this analysis. To the extent that the artists’ converging on similar expressive means may be the result of reciprocal influence, their artistic production (including their linguistic choices) may be explained within a Communities of Practice theoretical framework. However, the global spread of hip-hop can also challenge, or at least help refine, the CofP approach, since contact between these artists is rarely face to face and may be limited to only one behavioural domain, any potential influence between them being primarily ‘second-hand’ and mediated by the determining role of the music industry and the images of artists it wishes to project. To the extent that such awareness may then be limited or non-representative of the totality of their choices/experience, an alternative theoretical framework, that of Bourdieuan habitus, may also be applicable. On this view, their converging on similar expressive means may be seen as emerging from the commonality of their experience in their respective countries and in response to similar conditions of existence, giving rise to homologous habitus in a bottom-up fashion.
There are thus several ways in which the interface of micro and macro could be relevant to explaining global trends in the spread of hip-hop culture. At an empirical, data-driven level, the macro (global) category may be interpreted as an abstraction away from the micro (local) ones, which synthesize the symbolic values of the macro category with local, micro concerns. Conversely, starting from a socio-historical perspective, macro may be identified with the original, Black American hip-hop to the extent that this contains all the elements variously percolating down to the micro and re-interpreted in local terms by non-American artists. Finally, within a Bourdieuan habitus approach, similar conditions of existence may be seen as the micro-level giving rise to a global macro-structure, that is then further transformed through the agency of different artists.
Androutsopoulos, Jannis (ed., 2003) HipHop: Globale Kultur – Lokale Praktiken. Bielefeld: Transcript.
Pennycook, Alastair (2007) Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows. New York: Routledge.
Richardson, Elaine (2007) Hiphop Literacies. London: Routledge.
Rickford, John Russell & Rickford, Russell John (2000) Spoken Soul New York: John Wiley & Sons.