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Talking Politics 2023: Conversations and Public Pedagogies Beyond the Webinar

Joshua Babcock, Maureen Kosse, and Wee Yang Soh

During the spring of 2023, students and early-career scholars at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado Boulder launched the second edition of Talking Politics. Originally the brainchild of Lead Organizer Wee Yang Soh in 2020, this award-winning public webinar series was designed to showcase how linguistic anthropologists and researchers in related fields analyze political communication beyond partisan punditry and culture-critique.

In 2020–21, we chose to focus on the U.S. Presidential Election from among the many potential topics of the moment—for instance, COVID-19 and ongoing calls for decolonization across sectors and institutions—as part of an experiment: how can linguistic anthropologists create and share tools to rigorously analyze political language? And how can this contribute, directly or indirectly, to combating political misinformation and disinformation? The 2020–21 series featured webinars by Adam Hodges, Michael Lempert, Janet McIntosh, Norma Mendoza-Denton, and Jonathan Rosa along with appearances by Jennifer Delfino, Aurora Donzelli, Matthew Ingram, and Krystal A. Smalls as discussants. The talks explored how Donald Trump strategically managed plausible deniability in public communication; how gestures and body language shaped the uptake of his verbal messages during presidential debates; and how histories of racism, gender panic, and linguistic discrimination drove the Trump Campaign’s priorities—as well as the desire for a return to “normal” politics by commentators across the American political spectrum.

When we relaunched the series in 2023, we similarly faced a world of possibilities for what to focus on. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge: on the one hand, the organizing team had the opportunity to respond to feedback from the first series’ audiences and expand our focus both beyond the U.S. and beyond formal partisan or electoral politics, sampling from the immense variety of political struggles happening globally—especially around issues that don’t get seen as “political” at all. The theme, “Silences + Voices in Global Media,” was designed to capture this tension as well as the series’ broad ambitions.

Together, this opportunity and challenge prompted us to think expansively about our goals, platforms for communication, and archiving strategies beyond simply getting faces in front of screens during the webinars (though this still mattered to us). For this reason, we launched the Talking Politics blog as a collaborative effort among the series’ organizers, discussants, guests, and a dedicated Content Team made up of Josh Babcock, Jacob Henry, and Roberto Young. The blog features short explainer posts about the keywords in the series title (talking politics, silences, voices, and media) along with webinar recaps and guest-authored content that goes beyond the Talking Politics webinar topics.

We’ve crafted these to be as accessible as possible to make them usable in community college and university classrooms, both for undergraduate and graduate students with broad interests in language and politics. Thanks to special effort from team members and guest authors, we’re also pleased to feature two bilingual Spanish-English posts. A list of blog resources is below, and readers can find the full lineup for Talking Politics 2023: Silences + Voices in Global Media on the UChicago Center for the Study of Communication and Society (CSCS) website. Stay tuned for the webinar recordings, coming soon to the CSCS YouTube channel.


Introducing Talking Politics 2023: Silences + Voices in Global Media

Apr 10, 2023 | By Joshua Babcock, Maureen Kosse, and Wee Yang Soh

Talking Politics Keywords

What is “Talking Politics” and Why Should We Care?

Apr 12, 2023 | By Joshua Babcock

Talking Politics Keywords

What is “Voice”?

Apr 14, 2023 | By Roberto Young

Talking Politics Keywords

What are “Silences”?

Apr 17, 2023 | By Roberto Young and Joshua Babcock

Talking Politics Keywords

What is/are “Media”?

Apr 20, 2023 | By Joshua Babcock

Webinar Recap

Talking Politics with Nicholas Mararac (Apr 21, 2023)

Apr 22, 2023 | By Kate Arnold-Murray

Roundtable Recap

Transnational Language Politics, Old and New (May 5, 2023, featuring Jessica Chandras, Jaime Pérez González, Martina Volfová, and Keisha Wiel)

May 6, 2023 | The Talking Politics Team

Webinar Recap

Talking Politics with Joshua Babcock + Ilana Gershon (May 19, 2023)

May 20, 2023 | By Sarah Adams

Guest Blog

How to Respond to a Political Slur: Contestatory Identity Positioning in a Bolivian Meme Cycle (available in English and Spanish)

May 29, 2023 | By Anita Zandstra

Roundtable Recap

Afterlives of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, Beyond Tankie (May 26, 2023, featuring Taras Fedirko, Jessica Greenberg, Sarah Muir, and Yukun Zeng)

May 30, 2023 | By Joshua Babcock

Guest Blog

The Poetics of the U.S. Empire in South Korean Queer Politics

June 1, 2023 | By Yookyeong Im

Guest Blog

Asylum Text Analytics as an Algorithmic Silver Bullet: The Impossible Quest for Automated Fraud Detection

June 20, 2023 | By Jeremy A. Rud

Guest Blog

The Politics of Bilingualism to Monolingualism in Guatemala / La política del bilingüismo al monolingüismo en Guatemala (available in English and Spanish)

August 24, 2023 | By Alberto Esquit Choy, co-translated and edited by Roberto Young and Molly Hamm-Rodríguez