Current Institutional Affiliation
Academic Editor & Writing Coach

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Moving Words: Malagasy Slam Poetry at the Intersection of Politics, Performance, and Transnational Circulation

My research analyzes how understandings of democracy are shaped by the transnational circulation of slam poetry—a contemporary verbal art competition that merges poetry reading with rap battle—as it contends with centuries-old genres of public discourse. In this project I track how an urban poetry contest born in a largely African-American neighborhood in Chicago came to take root on an island in the Indian Ocean where verbal art is anything but new. Slam has flourished in countries around the world, but Madagascar is unique in its rich and diverse tradition of verbal art genres that are still prevalent in everyday life, such as oratory (kabary) and proverbs (ohabolana), both of which were foundational sites for linguistic anthropological understandings of rhetoric, poetics, and politics. This project will show how slam poets and other verbal artists—including politicians—contest and reform notions of the private versus the public sphere, evaluations of authority and competence (who has the right and the ability to speak?), and norms of indirectness and deference in social interaction. To investigate these questions I will focus on the linguistic and embodied practices of slam poets and their audiences, the circulation of these performances in new social media, and the interaction between slam and other spheres of verbal performance. By leveraging the problematics that arise in social anthropological discussions of global circulation, in combination with fine-grained linguistic analysis of verbal art performances, my research will provide critical insight into how language ideologies and bodily dispositions form, contend with opposing dispositions and ideologies, and ultimately impact the political and economic livelihoods of communities.