Communicating across institutional boundaries: Lg in the "new" political economy

Susan Gal

University of Chicago, USA

WS129: Language as social practice in the globalized new economy

A striking feature of the current international scene is the presence of non-governmental organizations and advocacy networks. Although they have precedents in missionary activity and colonization, the cross-national NGOs of the last decades constitute a novel organizational and cultural form. They complicate, contest and sometimes replace the work of states in numerous policy areas. The literature on NGOs argues that the circulation of terms (e.g. “empowerment” “environment” “culture”), the diffusion of justificatory discourses, the creation of policy documents, and the recruitment of new constituencies are among the key aims and functions of NGOs. These tasks are invariably mediated by communicative practices. Yet, sociocultural anthropologists treat the communicative practices of NGOs as unexamined ‘black boxes.’ Linguistic anthropologists have neglected to study them. Yet these practices involve the classic subject matter of linguistic anthropology: multilingual interaction, oral and written translation, strategies of persuasion for multiple audiences, the creation of publics and interdiscursive linkages. In this paper I argue that closer understanding of communication in NGOs is crucial for analyzing their broader effects. At the same time, the organizational and political context of that communication challenges the usual analytical moves of linguistic anthropology. The paper suggests rethinking concepts of speech community, translation, and the sources of linguistic authority by presenting a comparison of communicative practices in three NGOs in eastern Europe, each with a different policy agenda: environmentalist, women’s rights, democracy.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Language as social practice in the globalized new economy
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 03