Current Institutional Affiliation
Anthropology, University of Chicago

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Chicago
Siyo Lugha Yetu (It's not our language): Language and the Production of Identity in Kisumu, Kenya

Young people in Kenya are reconfiguring the historically and politically complicated relationships between national, local and ethnic identities in new ways. Luo youth, who are part of an ethnic group that has been politically and socially marginalized since Kenya’s independence, fluidly mix Kenya’s national languages, Swahili and English, with the Luo language, Dholuo. Mixing languages that, for older generations are indicators of ethnicity, education and status, highlights the subtle ways young people are contesting essentializing categories of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘nationhood;’ categories youths find increasingly problematic and insufficient. While there has been significant research into the macro-social implications of ‘identity’ and ‘ethnicity’ in postcolonial Africa, this research makes a crucial shift in scale toward the micro-processes that produce identities. This project investigates how identities are instantiated and inhabited through communicative practice; it will investigate the subtle daily practices that constantly coalesce into matrices of difference and forms of belonging. At a time when identitarian entanglements are used as motive and motifs for large-scale violence, an investigation into the processes that produce these identities is of fundamental importance, particularly in Kenya.