I’ll be presenting a paper in Montreal at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association, called “Intimacy and Inarticulateness: Entertainment Versus Literacy in Constructions of Age-Based Identities at a Vermont Primary School.” It’s on an exciting panel about age identities, language ideology, and language socialization, organized by Elise Berman (I don’t think this link will last very long). My paper’s abstract:
This paper argues that age-based identities in US schools are constructed through a contrast between classroom-based literacy practices and communicative repertoires linked to entertainment media, building on extensive ethnographic research about popular music consumption and media use among schoolchildren at a small primary school in rural Vermont. “Literacy” is often seen as the dominant language ideology in school, emphasizing decontextualized, monologic, and non-indexical modes of communication in essayist writing and Interaction-Response-Evaluation classroom interactions. This paper argues that entertainment media, by affording repertoires for communication that strongly contrast with literacy education, occupy a privileged position in constructions of childhood and adult identities in school. When schoolchildren listen with friends to music on portable devices, they go out of their way not to talk about music in descriptive or denotative modes, and instead they creatively explore the possibilities for intimate, embodied, and indexical interactions that arise in social contexts involving media: practices such as sharing headphones with friends that emphasize communicative layering, physical contact, and bodily coordination, and devalue descriptive language. Theorizing such practices using Ray McDermott’s account of the oppositional power embedded in “inarticulateness”—while emphasizing the intimacy and solidarity among children that inarticulateness makes possible—this paper argues that children actively politicize the communicative ecology of school as a site for articulating age difference, setting media consumption and indexical communication in opposition to decontextualized classroom communication, connecting the one to childhood solidarity, and the other to bureaucratic, institutional, and ultimately adult identities.