93426 - Language and Late Capitalism (1) (Lm)

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

The primary goal of this course is to explore the multifaceted interconnection between language and late/neoliberal capitalism. By the end of the course, students will show an understanding of the role that language plays in producing and unraveling contemporary global capitalism. Whether we see it as a commodity, a form of symbolic capital, a means of production, a disciplinary script, or a subversive technique of emancipation, language participates both in structuring and undermining the forms of political rationality and moral subjectivity that characterize our neoliberal present. Far from being a mere device for the transmission of information, language plays an important role in reproducing structures of social inequality and challenging power relations. Throughout the course, students will develop tools to analyze the discursive and semiotic forms that characterize our everyday lives. They will learn how to look at linguistic interactions and graphic artifacts (i.e., street signage, typefaces, letterforms, brands, logos, and other types of graphic media) as socially and politically meaningful semiotic technologies that shape our worlds. By the end of the course, students will gain a practice-based and theory-driven understanding of the intersection between language and capitalism, which they will be able to deploy in a vast range of professional and academic domains.

Course contents

This course will engage the role of language—both as a symbolic code and as a material tool—in the spreading of late/neoliberal capitalism. While most analyses of the world’s current order tend to focus on political and economic aspects, this course explores how certain ways of speaking and using language may produce capitalist forms of reasoning and practical conduct.

Throughout the course, students will develop tools to analyze the discursive and semiotic forms that characterize our everyday lives. They will learn how to look at linguistic interactions and graphic artifacts (i.e., street signage, typefaces, letterforms, brands, logos, and other types of graphic media) as socially and politically meaningful semiotic technologies that shape our worlds. They also will learn how to analyze new protocols of discourse that characterize our everyday lives: the customer satisfaction survey, the service encounter, the checklist, the logbook, the flowchart, the electoral mission statement, the training session, etc. In spite of their apparent ordinariness, these discursive genres/textual artifacts are key for the production of the self-improving and self-reflexive subjects required by the regimes of moral accountability and the forms of market rationality that characterize our contemporary moment. While reading ethnographic analyses of specific technologies of discourse, students will engage broader questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend generated by the homogenizing forces of Western Capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life?

The aim is to show how, within a regime of advanced capitalism, life and labor unfold through complex interplays of semiotic codes, affective registers, and material objects.

Classes will begin on March 18, 2024 and will proceed according to the following schedule

· Monday 11-13

· Tuesday 15-17

· Wednesday 11-13


The Italian academic system differentiates between attending and non-attending students. At the beginning of the course, prospective students will decide in which capacity they wish to take the course.

Students not attending class will be evaluated through an oral exam on two texts of their choice among the following list of books for non-attending students:

  • Appadurai, Arjun, and Neta Alexander. 2020. Failure. Medford: Polity Press.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and symbolic power. Harvard University Press.

  • Bulut, Ergin. 2020. A precarious game: The illusion of dream jobs in the video game industry. Cornell University Press.

  • Cameron, Deborah. 2000. Good to talk?: Living and working in a communication culture. Sage

  • Donzelli, Aurora. 2019. Methods of Desire: Language, Morality, and Affect in Neoliberal Indonesia. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Dyer-Witheford, Nick, and Greig De Peuter. 2009. Games of empire: Global capitalism and video games. U of Minnesota Press.

  • Keane, Webb. 2007.Christian moderns. University of California Press.
  • Gershon, Ilana. 2017. "Down and out in the new economy." Down and Out in the New Economy. University of Chicago Press.

  • Harkness, Nicholas. Songs of Seoul. University of California Press, 2013.

  • Holborow, Marnie. 2015. Language and neoliberalism. Routledge.
  • Holmes, Douglas R. 2013. Economy of words: communicative imperatives in central banks. University of Chicago Press.
  • Nakassis, Constantine V. 2016. Doing style. University of Chicago Press.
  • Prentice, Michael. 2022. Supercorporate: Distinction and Participation in Post-hierarchy South Korea. Stanford University Press.

  • Sherman, Rachel. 2007. Class acts: Service and inequality in luxury hotels. Univ of California Press,
  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015.The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press.
  • Yurchak, Alexei. 2013. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. Princeton University Press.
  • Wilf, Eitan Y. 2019.Creativity on demand: The dilemmas of innovation in an accelerated age. University of Chicago Press.

Students attending class will be expected to read the set of articles or book chapters assigned each week (more details on are provided in the course schedule for attending students, below). All the course materials for attending students will be made available AT THE BEGINNING OF THE COURSE in the ‘teaching materials’ sections of the website, only accessible to Unibo students with institutional credentials.

This is a tentative list SUBJECT TO CHANGE


Representational economies and semiotic ideologies of late capitalism

· Duranti, Alessandro. 2002. “Linguistic Anthropology [https://virtuale.unibo.it/mod/resource/view.php?id=1038652%22%20%5Co%20%22linguistic%20anthropology] .” In International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 8899-906.

· Hilgers, Mathieu. 2011. “The three anthropological approaches to neoliberalism.” International Social Science Journal 61(202): 351-364.

· Keane, Webb. 2018. "On semiotic ideology [https://virtuale.unibo.it/mod/resource/view.php?id=1038669%22%20%5Co%20%22ideology] ." In Signs and Society 6(1): 64-87. READ ONLY UNTIL P.72.

· Keane, Webb. 2007."Christian moderns." Christian Moderns. University of California Press, READ ONLY pp. 16-25.


City Branding/the Semiotic Landscapes of Neoliberal Gentrification

· Trinch, Shonna, and Edward Snajdr. 2017. "What the signs say: Gentrification and the disappearance of capitalism without distinction in Brooklyn." In Journal of Sociolinguistics 21(1): 64-89.

· Jaworski, Adam. "Globalese: A new visual-linguistic register." In Social Semiotics 25.2 (2015): 217-235.

· Järlehed, Johan. "Alphabet city: orthographic differentiation and branding in late capitalist cities." In Social Semiotics 31.1 (2021): 14-35.

· Järlehed, J. (2015). Ideological framing of vernacular type choices in the Galician and Basque semiotic landscape. Social Semiotics, 25(2), 165-199.



Language, Ideology, and the Political Economy of Linguistic Commodification

· Del Percio, Alfonso, Mi-Cha Flubacher, and Alexandre Duchêne. "Language and political economy." The Oxford handbook of language and society (2017): 55-76.

· Del Percio, Alfonso. "Branding the nation: Swiss multilingualism and the promotional capitalization on national history under late capitalism." Pragmatics and Society 7.1 (2016): 82-103.

· Washington, Adrienne R. "Orthography matters!: the ideologies, insecurities and global politics of the 1990 Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement." Journal of World Languages 5.3 (2018): 206-233.

· Londoño, Johana. "The Latino-ness of type: Making design identities socially significant." Social Semiotics 25.2 (2015): 142-150.



Affective Protocols of Speech/The Discursive Genres of Late Capitalism

· Prentice, Michael M., and Ilana Gershon. "Introduction: genre work and the new economy." Journal of Cultural Economy (2022): 1-10.

· Rudnyckyj, Daromir. "Circulating tears and managing hearts: Governing through affect in an Indonesian steel factory." Anthropological Theory 11.1 (2011): 63-87.

· Prentice, Michael M. 2019. "The powers in PowerPoint: Embedded authorities, documentary tastes, and institutional (second) orders in corporate Korea." American Anthropologist 121(2): 350-362.

· Donzelli, Aurora. "The act of reading aloud: Animating the neoliberal speaking subject in post-Suharto Indonesia." Discourse & Society 31.5 (2020): 459-477.

· Hull, Matthew. "Corporations and States: A Customer-Service Corporation inside the Punjab State Police." Cultural Anthropology 37.4 (2022): 764-792.



Affective Economies and the Production of Neoliberal Subjectivity

· Hochschild A. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press pp. 3-23

· Gershon, Ilana. 2016. "“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” Typing the neoliberal self into a branded existence." In HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(3): 223-246.

· Cameron, Deborah. 2000. “Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy.” In Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(3): 323-347.


Teaching methods

Teaching methods will be based both on instructor’s lectures and seminar-like discussions/workshops.

Lectures: the instructor will introduce specific topics and relevant scholarly debates, providing relevant ethnographic examples. Students will be encouraged to comment and ask questions.

Seminar discussions and Workshops: Every week a certain amount of time (approx. 2 hours) will be specifically devoted to collective discussions of the weekly readings, the themes exposed during the lectures, and collective workshops based the notes and observations collected by students in response to weekly prompts.


Reasonable Accommodations

If you have a disability that may interfere with your ability to participate in the activities, coursework, or assessment of the objectives of this course, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations. Please contact the instructor and the Servizio Studenti Dislessici ases_disabili.dislessia@unibo.it

Assessment methods

NB To qualify as "attending" a student must at least attend 75% of the classes, or else they will be considered as "non-attending" and assessed accordingly (see below the different requirements for "non-attending" and "attending" students)

· Assessment For non-attending students

Students who do not regularly attend class and choose not to engage in classwork will have to sustain an oral exam on two of the books provided in the list above (see list of books for non-attending students). They will be asked questions aimed at verifying their knowledge of the themes discussed in the two texts of their choice. The questions will be aimed at testing the students’ ability in exposing with an appropriate language some of the topics tackled by the books, as well as their skills in making connections between different texts in order to build an argument.

Proper language and the ability to critically speak about the books' content will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to summarize the books' content will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge of the books' content will lead to a failure in passing the exam.

· Assessment For attending students

Class attendance and class participation will be one of the elements taken into account for the final evaluation. The course is designed for regular (not intermittent) attendance. Impeccable attendance record is a plus. Students may miss a maximum of 5 classes out of 15 (any additional absence will result in the loss of "attending student status"). Students must come prepared for each week’s class by doing the assigned reading ahead of time. In addition to the readings, attending students will be given four small ethnographic tasks/prompts. Such prompts are aimed at stimulating the theoretical discussion of the readings, refine students’ ethnographic skills, and provide possible suggestions that could be further developed in the final paper (see below).

Final paper due no later than July 7, 2023. In addition to active participation in class discussions, students attending classwork will write a final paper on a topic agreed with the teacher and based both on the class reading list and on further specific bibliography selected by the student. Final papers are due two months after the end of the semester.

The grade you will receive will reflect both the quality of your writing and your performance in class.

Performance in class and scholarly attitude

Active participation and engagement in class discussions are requirements for both your individual and our collective success in this course. A substantial part of the course will center on group discussions of the readings assigned for each week and of the notes collected on the prompts. Students should be prepared to talk and devote their full attention to discussion.

Your approach to the course materials and class discussion will follow a few basic guidelines:

Be collaborative and collectivity-minded. Students have a collective responsibility towards seminar discussion and class participation. Participating in a scientific community requires embracing a commitment to collective work that should always distinguish any individual pursuit of knowledge. Although I am aware that people may have different personalities and different ways to participate in class discussions, active engagement in classroom activities is not simply a course requirement, but a fundamental responsibility towards the rest of the class and the scientific community at large.

Be charitable. All the readings selected for the syllabus are insightful and theoretically innovative. Listen to what the texts have to say. Critiquing aspects of the readings is fine, but if you find yourself rejecting an argument in toto, this indicates your reading is insufficiently generous.

Be open to discomfort. Remember that a learning process always entails a certain degree of discomfort and effort. You will read interesting and engaging materials, but there may be difficult concepts or technical aspects that you may find challenging. Some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining. When you encounter a difficult concept, please avoid a whining approach and focus on developing a constructive and proactive attitude towards the intellectual challenges you face: Take notes on what you could not understand and ask questions. Re-read difficult passages and be patient. Understanding a text is a process that requires time.

Be open to the possibility of changing your mind. Seminar discussions entail the possibility of revising our inherited positions. You are allowed, or better said, encouraged to speak in a provisional manner and required to be supportive and patient towards the other participants.

Be relevant. “Active participation” in class and group conferences is encouraged. However, this does not mean bringing the discussion on a tangent. It means listening carefully to what other people have to say, engage with the topics discussed by the readings, come to class with questions and issues to be vetted and debated, and offer feedback and advice on your classmates’ work in progress.

Final paper

In order to achieve excellent you will have to pay attention to the quality of your writing and be committed to improve it. By quality of writing I mean evidence of care for your readers, as well as of facility in written English. You will need to follow formatting guidelines and be carefully proofread and edited for typos, misspellings, convoluted constructions, and basic errors in punctuation.

The grade assigned to the paper will be based on:

- selection of the topic and its relatedness with the course content

- ability to identify relevant bibliography

- critical analysis

- clarity in structure and aims

- language proficiency

Your paper should be about 10-15 pages long (approx. 3000 words/4000 words TOPS!) should identify a key research question and a unifying theme that you will explore in relationship to the existing relevant bodies of academic literature and some references to your own original ethnographic investigation. You will need to discuss the relevant literature, describe your data and the methodology through which you collected them, advance your own interpretation of both the literature and your own data. Your own interpretation will be advanced in an introduction, articulated in the body of the paper, and clinched in your conclusion I expect your papers to be carefully polished.

You should present work of a quality that you would be willing to submit to a scholarly journal for consideration. Consequently, you must pay close attention to professional standards in your writing and citations. You should write for an imagined audience who have not necessarily read the particular essays and books. Therefore, you should illustrate and explain your points carefully.

The paper must be proofread and spellchecked, in proper AAA formatting for all footnotes, citations within text, and references, see the AAA style guide http://www.aaanet.org/pubs/style_guide.htm, as well as the additional guidelines I uploaded on the handout tab under the heading how to format your texts.

The final paper will need to have a:



Abstract of no more than 250 words

A list of 6 keywords

A list of references cited at the end, following AAA format

It should be divided in number sections (and subsections if you deem it necessary) each bearing its own heading (and subheading)

Length may vary, but it will need to be about 15 pages long, 1.5 or 2 spaced , with 1-inch margins.

You must number your pages.

Due date: June 30, 2024, by midnight


· Late submissions will not be accepted

· Academic Integrity and Plagiarism: Plagiarism is defined as using the ideas or words of someone else without acknowledging their source, for example:

· Copying of passages from works of others into your papers without acknowledgment.

· Using the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment.

· Paraphrasing another person's original phraseology, metaphor, or other literary device without acknowledgment.

Acts of plagiarism and violations of the principles of academic integrity will be strictly sanctioned.

Teaching tools

The instructor will occasionally use audio-visual sources (documentaries, maps and photos)

Students who attend class are requested to subscribe to the following mailing list (“Teachers-students” distribution list) through which they can receive any urgent communications about changes to the timetable or location of the lectures:


To register: go to https://www.dsa.unibo.it/default.aspx
Go to SDA, log in and look for "teacher-student lists" on the left drop-down list, then write aurora.donzelli.Language_and_Late_Capitalism

and register

Office hours

See the website of Aurora Donzelli