Introduction: Language and political economy, revisited

Andrew Graan


This special section constitutes an effort to span the divide between linguistic anthropological approaches to political economy and socio-cultural anthropological approaches to contemporary capitalism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the publication of several key works in anthropology forged a critical approach to language in social action that was attentive to questions of power, inequality, difference and domination. More than twenty-five years have passed since this articulation of language and political economy as a framework for scholarly investigation and critique.  In this time period, research in linguistic anthropology has continued to elaborate how language use and language ideologies (re)produce forms of social difference and inequality within and across interactions. At the same time, critical work in socio-cultural anthropology on political economy has become focused on neoliberalism, an ongoing redistribution of social risk, entitlement and responsibility, as a global condition. Research in this vein, however, has on the whole remained relatively unconcerned with language. Inspired by the twenty-fifth anniversary of Susan Gal’s classic essay “Language and Political Economy,” the essays collected here take seriously the challenge raised in studies of neoliberalism, namely, that political economies, in the empirical and analytic sense, have shifted post-1989. In doing so, they chart new pathways for a cross-fertilization between research in linguistic anthropology and scholarship on neoliberalism and contemporary political economy. Specifically, the papers: (1) identify impasses in the Foucault-inspired analyses of power as governmentality, (2) elaborate how emergent political economic forms compel a retheorization of “institutions” as a category of social analysis, (3) complicate understandings of the place of language in commodification processes, and (4) engage and theorize the specialized forms of reflexivity that often accompany neoliberalizing logics. 


language, political economy, capitalism, governmentality, institutions, commodification, reflexivity

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.013