Theses Doctoral

The Paradox of /ˈnɪɡə/: Ex·cite·able Acts, Ex·cess·able Moments

Maxwell, Joyce Annette

As a historically racialized utterance, nigger has been a contested and despised word since the late 17th Century. Now, in the 21st Century, nigga is still considered one of the most impactful words in the English lexicon. This dissertation provides one situated and contingent analysis of nigga as a moment of excess in the Higher Education classroom. I wed Judith Butler’s theorizing of ex-citable speech via her analyses of J.L. Austin’s influential conceptualizations of speech acts and Louis Althusser’s interpellation to Henry Louis Gates’ theory of Signifyin(g) in order to interrogate the multitudinous articulations and appropriations of nigga as a Signifyin(g) performative. Through my theorizing of nigger-nigga as a Signifyin(g) performative, I interrogate the continuity and discontinuity of use specific to the English Composition and Literature classroom, as well as within multiple Higher Education classrooms and discussions.

I interrogate use through the methodology of what I classify as Foucauldian-lite Discourse Analysis, in order to examine nigger and nigga as ex-citable speech. My intention is to interrogate how these utterances inflect and influence constructions of multiply conflicting and complimentary histories, identities, subjectivities and power relationships of professors and students in visible and invisible ways. The Untitled Supplemental Image is a metaphor for my methodology. The image is of my mother’s hands, which a woven throughout the dissertation, symbolically represents my memory of the first time I heard the utterance nigger.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Miller, Janet
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021