SSRC Fellow Kathryn Graber

Knowledge and Authority in Shift: A Linguistic Ethnography of Multilingual News Media in the Buryat Territories of Russia

Current Position: Fall 2011 – Graduate Student Instructor, University of Michigan; As of January 2012, Research Fellow at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center

This dissertation examines how media institutions direct language contact and minority language use in a border region of the Russian Federation. Specifically, I analyze news media as a particular kind of knowledge institution that reflects and regulates ideologies about language use and meaning in ethnic Buryatia, a multilingual area of southeastern Siberia. Generations of speakers here have been shifting to Russian from Buryat, an indigenous language closely related to Mongolian. Drawing on 18 months of archival, ethnographic, and sociolinguistic field research, I explain mass media’s role in creating and sustaining a minority language public in Soviet and post-Soviet Buryatia. I focus on how multilingual media circulate not only linguistic forms, but also ideologies about language use, modeling appropriate linguistic choices for different persons and institutions. Challenging existing research that assumes ideological consistency within Russian and Soviet institutions, I find that media personnel in Buryatia act on varied, often contradictory language ideologies. My dissertation describes how this ideological diversity assumes patterns across media platforms, including television, radio, print, and ‘new’/digital media, to generate a range of ideas about where—and in whom—knowledge and authority are located.

Current interests and projects:
Paper presentation at American Anthropological Association meetings (November 2011) – “Stiletto Heels and Chinggis Khan’s Boots: Paradoxes of Indigenous Citizenship In Post-Soviet Siberia”