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Dissertation Defense: William M. Cotter, "Language, culture, and development in Amman, Jordan"


Nov 5 2020 - 9:00am

November 5, 2020
9:00 a.m.
Via Zoom

Title: Language, culture, and development in Amman, Jordan

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the relationship between language and development in Amman, Jordan. The three analytical chapters of this dissertation examine this relationship through analyses of institutional and state discourse in Jordan, alongside analyses of how residents of Amman use language to narrate and navigate the complexities of development in their daily lives. I show how the state uses chronotopes (Bakhtin 1981), representations of time and space in discourse, to craft a vision of Jordanian modernity. As I show, the state draws on aspects of Jordanian history, as well as broader Islamic cultural history in order to present Jordan as a free-market, progressive, and distinctly “modern” Middle Eastern state. At the same time, I show how the state and its development partners make use of elite discourses (Thurlow and Jaworski 2017a) which further specific ideologies of development and continued economic reforms. Contrasting with these institutional forms of language use, this dissertation shows how residents draw on legacies of failed development in Amman to craft a chronotope of developmental failure that is used to resist state intrusion into their daily lives.  

This dissertation shows how, as one moves from individual experiences with development to higher levels of institutional discourse, language is a continual thread that weaves together varied, often contradictory, experiences with development in Jordan. By examining how institutions use language as part of development in Amman, I show how they construct imaginaries about life in Jordan and produce the ideological frame of state history. At the same time, this work shows how the ideological underpinnings of development are resisted by residents through language use. Together, the analyses that constitute this dissertation illuminates how language plays a central role in our understanding of what development is, how it progresses, the forms it can take, and how we navigate its outcomes and effects in our daily lives.   

Committee Chair(s): Natasha Warner (Linguistics) and Qing Zhang (Anthropology)

Committee: Natasha Warner, Qing Zhang, and Jennifer Roth-Gordon

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