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National Identity and Inter-Ethnic Relations in Madagascar  

Faniry Ranaivo Rahamefy and Nhamo A. Mhiripiri

In Madagascar, race- and ethnicity-based thinking is marked by a paradox: it is at the same time ubiquitous and elusive. Day-to-day communications are permeated with racial stereotypes based on ethnicity and class, yet they are so ingrained that they are hard to capture. Moreover, those stereotypes jar with the idea of national unity that is projected by official and readily accessible communications. To begin to understand this paradox between the projected national identity and the plurality of ethnic identities, it is necessary to grasp Madagascar’s unique ethnic predicament. Malagasy interethnic relations are negotiated through the dichotomy Merina/Côtiers. This othering dichotomy, which sets one ethnic group, the Merina, against the Others, the Côtiers, had been constructed and mobilized by the colonial power to serve its interests. Indeed, “Côtiers” is not an ethnic group per se, but an assemblage of all the ethnicities which are non-Merina. There are 18 ethnic groups in Madagascar, 16 of which are discursively regrouped in the category “Côtiers,” with one group geographically close to the Merina being assimilated with them. An essentialization of the Côtier group is therefore operated, as the latter is not an ethnicity in the conventional sense of the word. An effective way to investigate those layers of identification, as well as discursive practices around them, is to subject a corpus made up of purposively chosen speeches by the president of the Republic and of posts from official Facebook dating pages to critical discourse analysis. Such analysis reveals that public speeches are geared toward nation-state building through creation of national heroes, mobilization of history and national artifacts/symbols, and engineering a sense of “common good” around public infrastructures. Those communications are marked by structured absence of ethnic and racial markers. Even if they are aimed to foster a sense of belonging to one nation, they may have the opposite result, as they are predicated on a negation and co-optation of local, racial, ethnic, and classed identities. Such structured absence can also be found in the lonely hearts posts. They contain little reference to ethnic identities. Instead, the most prevalent research criteria for a life partner are skin color (white or light-brown) and religion (Christianity). Despite the absence of clear references to a specific ethnicity, those criteria connote belonging to ethnic groups from the central highlands of Madagascar. Moreover, the high prevalence of Christianity as a search criterion leads one to interrogate the correlation between color and religion, and to determine whether such correlation is indicative of cultural hegemony of specific ethnic groups. Lack of representation of other religions and races reveals deeper systemic exclusion of non-dominant groups, that is, those who are not white or light-skinned Christians. Despite being rooted in the private sphere, those dating posts are therefore symptomatic of deeper structural dynamics which are at the heart of nation-building. Indeed, at least in the Malagasy context, the family, and more specifically the Mother, is at the core of the nation. Ethnic, racial, and classed thinking is therefore scripted in the very foundation of the Malagasy nation.

Article

Public Discourse and Intergroup Communication  

Mikaela L. Marlow

Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.

Article

Theories of Economic Justice in the Rhetorical Tradition  

Catherine Chaput and Joshua S. Hanan

Depending on how you approach it, economic justice is either an extremely old intellectual tradition or a relatively new one. From the first perspective, economic justice is part and parcel of classical political philosophy—Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s The Politics, for instance, both discuss property distribution in an ideal society, emphasizing the philosophy of justice over economic precepts. From the second perspective, the one we embrace, economic justice is a uniquely modern inquiry that emerged with the writings of Karl Marx and his revolutionary critique of the capitalist political economy. For Marx, economic justice can be understood as a critical enterprise that attempts to locate contradictions between universal and particular conceptions of human freedom and intervene politically into these contradictions with the aim of creating a more just, equitable, and egalitarian society. So conceived, economic justice liberates the collective potential of humanity from its exploitation and degradation by capitalism as well as the various legal institutions it develops to control human behavior for the purpose of extracting of surplus-value. It is this Marxist perspective and the various historical reformulations that it has authorized that influence the way rhetoricians and scholars of cultural studies conceptualize economic justice in the discipline of communication. While not all of these scholars endorse an explicitly Marxist line of thought, they all attempt to conceptualize economic justice as a normative political category that influences various models of rhetorical agency and social change.

Article

Becoming Chinese: Sinicization, Nation, and Race in Xinjiang, China  

David O'Brien and Melissa Shani Brown

“Chineseness” is often depicted in public discourses within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as an identity that blurs together varied notions of shared cultural heritage, as well as common descent, within discourses of a unified national identity. This combines what might be called “ethnicity” (as cultural heritage), “race” (as common descent, physical or intrinsic characteristics), and “nation” (as territory and political state) in complex ways. And yet, a standard position within Chinese discourses (and often replicated in non-Chinese scholarship) is that historically informing the present, Chinese notions of “ethnic difference” are based on differences in “culture,” thus precluding “racism.” This characterization in part derives from the narrative that Chinese history was an ongoing process of “sinicization”—namely “backwards,” “barbarian” ethnic groups eagerly assimilated into the “more advanced” Han “civilization,” thus becoming “Chinese.” However, there are numerous scholarly challenges to this narrative as historically inaccurate or overly simplistic, as well as challenges to the positioning of this narrative as not “racist.” The idea that an emphasis on civilization versus barbarism is “cultural” and not “racial” delimits racism to a narrow definition focusing on “biophysical” difference. However, wider scholarship on race and racism highlights that the latter rests on diverse articulations of hierarchical difference; this includes and mobilizes cultural difference as an active part of racist discourses predicated on the acceptance of ideas of the “inferiority” versus “superiority” of peoples, as well as notions of “purity” within discourses of homogeneous imagined communities. Increasingly, “being Chinese” is being conceptualized in PRC official rhetoric as a culturally, and racially, homogeneous identity. That is, not only is Han culture being positioned as emblematic of “Chinese culture” generally but also it is being asserted that all ethnic groups are descended from the Han and are thus genetically bound by “Chinese bloodlines.” Such discourses have repercussions for ethnic minority groups within China—most clearly at the moment for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities who are positioned as “infected” by “foreign influences,” namely their religion. This is particularly clear in the contemporary sinicization campaign in Xinjiang (XUAR: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), a region in northwest China that has gained increasing international attention due to the government’s use of “re-education” camps in a program it argues is designed to eliminate terrorism. The accompanying sinicization campaign involves a combination of propaganda emphasizing “Chinese socialist characteristics” and “core values” that should be adopted, an emphasis in the media on Uyghurs engaging in Han cultural practices as a demonstration of their loyalty to the state, as well as the removal of many visible signs of Chinese Islamic history and Uyghur culture. The turn toward politically policing culture is hardly new in China; however, the increasing emphasis on racial notions of identity—foregrounding physical appearance, genetics, lineage, and metaphors of “bloodlines”—is an attempt to turn a national identity into a “natural” one, something that raises urgent questions with regard to how China deals with the diversity of its population and the stakes in being, or becoming, “Chinese.”