The Astor Visiting Lecture: Words and Deeds by Professor Michael Jackson

In this talk, I share some vignettes from my recent fieldwork among African migrants living in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and London in order to reflect on the cultural and strategic reasons why migrants are often averse to speaking their minds, telling their stories, or sharing their feelings. In linking this parsimony in speech to economy in consumption, I explore not simply what words mean or are made to mean, but what words do – their social effects,
their political repercussions, and their practical entailments. In this endeavor I am, to some extent, echoing Wittgenstein’s proposition that ‘one cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that,’ though I am also mindful of Malinowski’s emphasis on language as ‘a mode of action rather than as a countersign of thought.’