Words in Motion

Toward a Global Lexicon

Words in Motion

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 2 tables Published: December 2009

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Globalization and Neoliberalism, History > World History

On the premise that words have the power to make worlds, each essay in this book follows a word as it travels around the globe and across time. Scholars from five disciplines address thirteen societies to highlight the social and political life of words in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. The approach is consciously experimental, in that rigorously tracking specific words in specific settings frequently leads in unexpected directions and alters conventional depictions of global modernity.

Such words as security in Brazil, responsibility in Japan, community in Thailand, and hijāb in France changed the societies in which they moved even as the words were changed by them. Some words threatened to launch wars, as injury did in imperial Britain’s relations with China in the nineteenth century. Others, such as secularism, worked in silence to agitate for political change in twentieth-century Morocco. Words imposed or imported from abroad could be transformed by those who wielded them to oppose the very powers that first introduced them, as happened in Turkey, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Taken together, this selection of fourteen essays reveals commonality as well as distinctiveness across modern societies, making the world look different from the interdisciplinary and transnational perspective of “words in motion.”

Contributors. Mona Abaza, Itty Abraham, Partha Chatterjee, Carol Gluck, Huri Islamoglu, Claudia Koonz, Lydia H. Liu, Driss Maghraoui, Vicente L. Rafael, Craig J. Reynolds, Seteney Shami, Alan Tansman, Kasian Tejapira, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing


“Here is a collection of essays that all students of history, especially those with an interest in its political, social, and ethnographic dimensions will find intriguing. . . . [T]he book provides an ideal text for any interdisciplinary study that blends history, sociology, and international affairs. It may also be of some interest to semanticists.” — Claire Wyckoff, Publishing Research Quarterly

"[T]his book offers many things to open-minded readers. The unpredictability at times can be refreshing, as we see when words imposed on the powerless become a double-edged sword (’terrorists’ becoming ‘freedom fighters’ in India, for example). Also, the words-in-motion project highlights the contributions of ‘critical public intellectuals who shape ideas and institutions not just in their home nations but also between and beyond national space’ (16). All the authors in this collection write with originality, wit, and flair, and deserve a wide audience.” — James Stanlaw, Anthropos

Words in Motion is a highly original and exciting exploration of the global movements, transformations and social impacts of words which I expect will be welcomed and expanded upon by scholars in the fields of global and area studies. It is a recommended read for anyone with an interest in global history, conceptual history or translation studies.” — Michael Facius, H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews

“I can think of no better field-guide to how ‘globalization’ works on-the-ground than this pioneering and remarkable collection of studies of how words and concepts move across the globe, old meanings turning into evolving new meanings as they shift from Britain to Asia, from Egypt to Indonesia, from the worlds of the past in Turkey and Japan into their new ages. This book should henceforth be part of any reading list on global history.” — Eric Hobsbawm, fellow of the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

“Moving from North Africa through Europe to East and Southeast Asia, ranging from colonial discourse through national liberation movements into postcoloniality and globalization, this meticulously researched collection of stellar essays shows the politics of meaning-change as words cross boundaries from North to South and back, through the politics of gender and class. I am already using it in my teaching!” — Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol Gluck is George Sansom Professor of History at Columbia University. She is the author of Thinking with the Past: Modern Japan and History and Japan’s Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, and editor of Asia in Western and World History.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-way Place and an editor of Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Words in Motion / Carol Gluck 3

Works in Motion / Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing 11

Words with Shadows

Segurança/Security in Brazil and the United States / Itty Abraham 21

Adat/Indigenous: Indigeneity in Motion / Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing 40

Words That Expand

Ada/Custom in the Middle East and South Asia / Mona Abaza 67

Sekinin/Responsibility in Modern Japan / Carol Gluck 83

Words Unspoken

Ilmaniyya, Laïcité, Secularisme/Secularism in Morocco / Driss Maghraoui 109

Saburaimu/Sublime: A Japanese Word and Its Political Afterlife / Alan Tansman 129

Words That Cover

Aqalliyya/Minority in Modern Egyptian Discourse / Seteney Shami 151

Hijâb/Headscarf: A Political Journey / Claudia Koonz 174

Fear Words

Injury: Incriminating Words and Imperial Power / Lydia H. Liu 199

Conjuracion/Conspiracy in the Philippine Revolution of 1896 / Vicente L. Rafael 219

Terrorism: State Sovereignty and Militant Politics in India / Partha Chatterjee 240

Words That Set Standards

Komisyon/Commission and Kurul/Board: Words that Rule / Huri Islamoglu 265

Chumchon/Community in Thailand / Craig J. Reynolds 286

Thammarat/Good Governance in Glocalizing Thailand / Kasian Tejapira 306

Notes on Contributors 327

Index 329

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4536-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4519-0
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