Theses Doctoral

Democratic Infelicity: Speech, Authority and Disbelief in Malian Politics

Mendoza Rockwell, Elsa Natalia

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of institutional politics in postcolonial societies, in this case, contemporary Mali. It examines the ways in which transitions to democracy have transformed everyday politics not only through the creation of new institutional arrangements, but through the promotion of new understandings of social and political authority. In particular, this research examines the expectations that democratic institutions place on political deliberation and public speech, as well as the multiple ways in which democratic political speech has failed to fulfill those expectations. To address these questions, it combines Linguistic and Political Anthropology in the analysis of everyday discussions that took place in institutions of political representation in contemporary Mali—from the National Assembly to local councils and party meetings. This linguistic evidence was collected during fifteen months of fieldwork in Bamako and Kita, Mali, in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Each chapter is centered on one of the various categories that mediate the relationship between political speech and action—such as authority, representation, and intention. My analyses of discursive patterns within the specific political context of Mali lays bare an oscillation between a serious engagement with democratic political discussion on the one hand, and its rejection through expressions of suspicion and disbelief on the other. Drawing on J. L. Austin’s speech act theory, I argue that democratic political speech suffers “infelicity,” or a recurrent difficulty in authenticating formal political speech and investing it with added performative force.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lomnitz, Claudio W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 28, 2015