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AN News: Language and Social Justice Committee Storify (Language and Social Justice Committee)

Anthropology News Column

This post is a summary of the Storify compiled by the Committee for Language and Social Justice following the AAA Annual Meeting.  You can find the original Storify here.

At this year’s AAA Annual Meeting, the Committee for Language and Social Justice (LSJ) (part of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology) convened several panels and discussions to further our understanding of how language and social justice intersect. Beyond the oxygenated conversations, a group of scholars from the Language and Social Justice Committee planned a social media campaign to document the conversations using a multimodal, multi-authorial, and multi-rhetorical approach.

Kate Riley’s presentation “Words Matter” at the AAA Committee for Human Rights Roundtable, titled “Human Rights, the Academy, and Beyond: How Anthropologists Engage.” Jaymelee Kim.

Our small curated collection should give a glimpse of the range of activity regarding language and social justice. Every aspect of human behavior is semiotically mediated, which means that everything we do—educate, migrate, legislate, employ, teach, oppress, liberate, govern, rebel, love, hate, observe—has a linguistic dimension. There can be no justice without attention paid to the words within which our ideals and our suffering are conveyed. And a robust group of scholars is paying attention to this. In years to come this will require even more vigilance. We’re ready.


This Storify is divided into three parts. The first section focuses on multilingual education and social justice. Most of this section has been drawn from the SLA Presidential Conversation, connecting the analysis by our live tweeters about the presentations with the presentation summaries from the original authors. We have also included links to articles and websites for further reading. The second section explores the digital conversation related to both LSJ and non-LSJ panels LSJ members went to, focusing on questions about how anthropologists interface with a number of marginal communities. And the final section focuses on teaching against bigotry in everyday speech. These tweets were gathered from the LSJ committee meeting where we discussed the implications of the recent US presidential election on language and social justice issues in our teaching, public/media outreach, and research.

Section One: Multilingual Education and Social Justice

On November 17th, anthropologists gathered at the SLA Presidential Conversation on Multilingual Education and Social Justice, which included presentations by the following:

  • Indigenous Latino Immigrant Students in US Schools: Challenges and Possibilities (Patricia Baquedano-López)
  • Proposition 58-LEARN in California (Bilingual Education) (Ted Everhart & Magaly Lavandez)
  • Misreadings and Unreadings of Blackness in Language Learning Classrooms and Scholarship (Krystal Smalls)
  • Heritage Language Education, Community Partnerships, and Social Justice (Netta Avineri & Shawna Shapiro)
  • Oshiinigilisha Ashike Gone Awry in Namibia Over 25 Years Later: What Counts as a Language Problem? (Rodney Hopson)

Across these presentations, we considered the production and political impact of language ideologies, language practices, language socialization, language policies, and linguistic rights and discrimination in multilingual education. These presentations pushed us to consider:

Neil Cantemaza McKay’s Indigenous Welcome in Dakota and English at the 115th AAA Annual Meeting. Susan Blum
  • Who is “indigenous”?
  • Whom is bilingual education for?
  • What is “intelligible” language?
  • What is a “heritage” language?
  • What counts as a “language problem”?

For all of these questions we pondered—who decides what defines each of these areas and topics?

During this discussion, panelists interrogated multilingual education across diverse social contexts. We hope this section demonstrates the richness of multilingualism and how educators can broaden their understanding about how best to teach our multilingual student populations through informed and critical pedagogy that attends to intersectionality explicitly.

Section Two: On Race, Labor, and Human Rights

LSJ Tweeters visited both LSJ-affiliated and non-LSJ affiliated panels on language-related issues at the intersection of race, labor, and human rights. These panels were specifically focused on the experiences of marginal social groups, from Native Americans and African Americans to trans persons and refugees.

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-3-16-09-pmThis section is divided into three parts. The first part culls together tweets from non-LSJ affiliated panels but are still developing the larger discussion on the relationship between racialization and communication that fall under LSJ’s commitments. We hope you enjoy our collected tweets. The second part focuses on perspectives from an LSJ-affiliated panel on contingent labor in academia.

Language and social justice issues stemming from the 2016 presidential election emerged at the AAA business meeting as well. Thus, not only did anthropologists express an interest in supporting oppressed groups elsewhere in the world (as is their wont), they also directed their attention toward using their cross-cultural knowledge to bridge the deep communication divides breached by the election and recommended a speech act known as a “resolution” to address the symbolic violence that has already been perpetrated and is expected to worsen over the next four years.

Section Three: Teaching Against Bigotry in Everyday Speech Acts


On Saturday, the Committee gathered to discuss new business. Since the meeting took place two weeks after the 2016 US presidential election, attendees were interested in thinking through how the vitriolic and divisive rhetoric during the campaign has influenced everyday forms of speech. Participants discussed actions we can take as educators to address a fast-changing racial climate, including working with our students and secondary school educators to develop materials to help address raciolinguistic aggression in the classroom and on our campuses. Participants also discussed possible actions to shape and inform public discourse on race relations and racial discrimination in the United States, such as developing op-eds, official statements, and other materials to intervene upon the ways white supremacy is being normalized in the wake of the election (i.e., using “alt-right” as a neutral term). The importance of talking about language practices and processes and discursive histories was stressed, so that our public outreach efforts do not become reduced to the “policing” of certain terms.

During the LSJ meeting, participants discussed how to combat bigotry through our pedagogy and curriculum, activist work within and beyond college campuses, and our everday discursive practices. We were invigorated by a well-attended meeting and commitments by anthropologists to respond to the call on how our discipline can best respond to denaturalizing the hateful rhetoric brought by the recent election, but also attending to a much longer history of systemic inequality and oppression in our classrooms and across society.

We hope that this holistic response will increase awareness of the LSJ’s work on social justice by providing an accessible window onto the diverse ways linguistic anthropologists explore the interconnections among language (its structure, use, and ideology) and a number of pressing anthropolitical issues.

Mariam Durrani (Harvard University), Netta Avineri (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey), Kathleen C. Riley (Rutgers University), Hilary Parsons Dick (Arcadia University), and Susan D. Blum (University of Notre Dame) are members of the Language and Social Justice Committee.

Please send your comments, contributions, news and announcements to SLA Contributing Editors Anna Babel ( or Ilana Gershon (