Words to sow: Language, violence, and peacemaking in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine is not about language politics. When, where, or whether at all one can or should speak Russian, mixed dialects, or minority languages has long been a topic of debate in Ukraine, but language choice was not a direct cause of the eight-year armed conflict in the country's south and east, nor does it justify the 2022 Russian invasion. But language more broadly conceived has played a substantial role in the war. How can we study (the multitude of) relationships between language and violence ethnographically? And what about the flip-side: language and peacemaking? This presentation investigates some of the language ideologies that undergird common assumptions about the sorts of speech – for example, dehumanizing slurs, imperialist historical narratives, disinformation, lack of a "common language" – presumed capable of wounding people, creating division, or even provoking armed conflict, observing that utterances the utterances that are most audibly troubling may not necessarily be those that are most powerful. It then compares and contrasts language's presumed role in bringing about violence with assumptions about its importance in peacemaking and reconciliation efforts.

Deborah A. Jones is a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist focused on Ukraine. Her most recent fieldwork was with people working in landmine clearance in then Kyiv-controlled Donbas. She is also engaged in refugee support in Germany, where she is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

Departmental Seminar Series Michaelmas 2022

3.15pm, Fridays (Weeks 2-6, 8). On Teams only in Weeks 3 and 8, otherwise in 64 Banbury Road and on Teams.

The Seminar is replaced in Week 7 by the Geoffrey Harrison Prize Lecture which takes place at 4pm on 25 November in 64 Banbury Road.

Convened by Ina Zharkevich and Chihab El Khachab