African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

14

Language, government and the play on purity and impurity

Arabic, Swahili and the vernaculars in Kenya

David Parkin

THE THEORETICAL BASIS

Among current tensions in anthropological theory (see Ulin 1991), there is one that appears to be acting as a prolegomenon to a new synthesis. On the one hand, there is the now rapidly fading postmodernist position, dating especially from Lyotard (1984), that technological specialization and compartmentalization in the modern world have shattered the universalist illusions of grand theory and have broken it up into an infinitely expanding number of relativized discourses. On the other hand, there is the continuing influence of political economy, emanating from Taussig (1980), Habermas (1981), Wolf (1982) and Mintz (1985), with its insistence on global interconnectedness as the overall determining context of human action, development and history. With regard to the synthesis, it might be argued that the current experimentation with such conceptual metaphors as global ‘creolization’ and ‘post-pluralism’ (meaning, in effect, old-type oppositional pluralism, but with the constituent elements now in communication with each other) is a blending of the postmodernist concern with fragmentation and the universalist premise of political economists that social formations are grounded historically in the irreducible reality of human labour and the exchange of its products. In this new synthesis, the products are, of course, seen as commodities, whose principal feature is not that they have become alienated from their producers in the classical Marxist sense (which is taken for granted), but that they have become embedded in endless chains of consumerism, whose proliferation is stimulated by the promise that they will return to satisfy the equally endless desires of the producers-turned-consumers (cf. Baudrillard 1972).

Language has also nowadays become commoditized to the extent that it is commonly held up as the property of an ethnic or national group, class and even caste, often regardless of how many members of the group

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