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To read current articles in JLA  Volume 27, Issue 2 in full, click here. Please see abstracts of current articles below.


Grading Qualities and (Un)settling Equivalences: Undocumented Migration, Commensuration, and Intrusive Phonosonics in the Indonesia‐Malaysia Borderlands

Andrew M. Carruthers


Undocumented migrants’ bodies are typically assumed to exhibit signs of their so-called “illegal” status. In the absence of phenotypic, linguistic, or religious diacritics of categorical outsidership, however, how are migrants made legible and policed? How might they navigate state surveillance by exploiting their perceived equivalences with members of a host community? Indonesians were long encouraged to informally emigrate to neighboring Malaysia because they readily assimilated as Malay-speaking Muslim members of the greater “Malay race.” More recently, however, they have figured in countervailing narratives as a parasitic and frustratingly elusive presence in need of expulsion. This article outlines how Indonesian migrants and Malaysian citizens are responding to these developments by jointly reevaluating their qualitative equivalences. First, it sketches how “diasporic infrastructures” linking Indonesia and Malaysia have enabled the conditions of possibility for the production of equivalences between migrants and hosts. Second, it sketches a semiotics of “grading” (a process whereby agents discern and evaluate qualitative intensities), examining how equivalences between these commensurate collectivities are settled, indicated, and framed along gradations of more-or-less-ness. Third, it assesses how sonically graded differences in embodied qualities of talk can unsettle equivalences between migrants and citizens, potentially putting migrants at risk.

The Kitchen, the Cat, and the Table: Domestic Affairs in Minority‐Language Politics

Kathryn E. Graber


This article examines ideological constructions of the domestic sphere in metalinguistic commentary about loss in Buryat, a contracting language of Siberia whose speakers are shifting to Russian. Although calling Buryat “just a kitchen language” suggests that the kitchen is linguistically devalued, a popular joke told among bilingual speakers and its use-in-context show that kitchens can also be invoked to positively demarcate an inner sphere of comfortable, “offstage” interaction, to authenticate otherwise derided ways of speaking, and to build solidarity. The kitchen emerges as a complex discursive resource for commenting on—and for re-creating—pragmatic rules for the use of different codes and registers.

The Politics of Commiseration: On the Communicative Labors of “Co‐Mothering” in El Alto

Stephen Kingsley Scott


In El Alto, Bolivia, the communicative and affective capacities of local neighborhood women are often valorized as strategic sites for circulating governmental discourses across ethnolinguistic boundaries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the domain of public health. As this article explores, municipal health projects in El Alto increasingly cast neighborhood women in para-governmental roles, hoping to tap into the networks of community-based belonging they create and maintain through their everyday communicative labors. By focusing on the work performed by an often-overlooked genre of gendered discourse—comadreando, or “co-mothering” speech—this article calls attention to the concrete semiotic forms that mediate this kind of local governmentality. As I argue, everyday events of comadreando enact rituals of commiseration that build mutual trust and sympathy (confianza) between women and the households they head. But when figured in public health projects, they become vehicles of a broader politics of commiseration, one that aims to forge reliable channels of trust, goodwill, and sympathetic understanding between neighborhood actors and the state. However, as I also argue, the mobilization of such forms can open up such governmental strategies to unanticipated reappropriations, as the affective and communicative labors of women are diverted to more ambiguous ends.

Shadow Subjects: A Category of Analysis for Empathic Stancetaking

Maisa C. Taha


This article analyzes conversational and material data collected during 12 months of fieldwork at a secondary school in southeast Spain. I focus on the cultivation of stance positions—particularly around gender equality—involving “shadow subjects”: imagined discursive figures that both prompt and constrain empathy for others whose rights have been violated. Within this multicultural context, Moroccan immigrant youth get positioned as defenders of outdated patriarchal mores. I argue that the semiotic burdening and elaboration of stance on behalf of shadow subjects makes this possible and points to inherent biases in operationalizing “universal” egalitarian values among ideologically and experientially diverse communities.

Inventing Postcolonial Elites: Race, Language, Mix, Excess

Angela Reyes


This article illustrates how semiotic processes that form and circulate ideologies about race, language, and the elite are central to questions of coloniality. Considering the historical and contemporary context of the Philippines, I examine how notions of linguistic and racial “mix” and “excess” get linked to elite social figures and how one elite figure in particular—the “conyo elite”—is reportedly heard and seen by a private school–educated listening subject that is constituted, in contrast, as “middle-class elite.” I consider how iconizations of mixedness and excessiveness invent distinctions among Philippine elite types, producing an “elite bifurcation” that recursively constitutes colonial hierarchies: positioning conyo elites as acting as colonists whose supposedly mixed and excessive qualities are regarded as immoral, overly modern, and a national betrayal.

The Failing Body: Narratives of Breastfeeding Troubles and Shame

Linnea Hanell


This article explores the relationship between discourse and experiences of ill health. Drawing on narratives, it shows how a mother who is experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding embodies sentiments of shame over what she perceives as a failure to perform motherhood. The notions of interdiscursivity and the historical body are employed to ground the individual’s experience in discursive practices, and to propose that shame is a sentiment that arises in deviations from the biopolitical ideologies that are produced and reproduced through those practices. Expressing shame becomes a resource for assuming responsibility for failed motherhood; and, at the same time, it appears to obstruct recovery to smoothly functioning breastfeeding.