Brigittine M. French
Assistant Vice President of Global Education
Brigittine French joined the Grinnell faculty in 2003 and is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. French is a linguistic and political anthropologist whose diverse body of teaching and research focuses on theoretical and ethnographic approaches to narrative, testimonial discourse, violence, gender, rights, and democratic state institutions in post-war nations. Her first book, Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity: Violence, Cultural Rights, and Modernity is Highland Guatemala, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2010. Her second book, Narratives of Conflict, Belonging, and the State: Discourse and Social Life in Post-War Ireland, was published by Routledge in 2018. French's work also has appeared in the Journal of Human Rights, American Anthropologist, Language in Society, and the Annual Review of Anthropology, among others. Her research has been generously supported by the United States Fulbright Program and the American Philosophical Society. She currently is working on a comparative project that deals with gendered forms of violence in Latin America and the United States as well as a project that is concerned with the circulation of genocidal language in Guatemala. French's newest book, Anthropological Lives, co-authored with Virginia Dominguez is forthcoming with Rutgers University Press.
The Semiotics of Collective Memories
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Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity: Violence, Cultural Rights, and Modernity in Highland Guatemala
"French offers interesting data and speaks in new ways to the interplay of gender politics and symbolism on one hand, and the dynamics of bilingualism and language shift on the other." -Joseph Errington, author of Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power “French offers interesting data and speaks in new ways to the interplay of gender politics and symbolism on one hand, and the dynamics of bilingualism and language shift on the other.” —Joseph Errington, author of Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power In this valuable book, ethnographer and anthropologist Brigittine French mobilizes new critical-theoretical perspectives in linguistic anthropology, applying them to the politically charged context of contemporary Guatemala. Beginning with an examination of the “nationalist project” that has been ongoing since the end of the colonial period, French interrogates the “Guatemalan/indigenous binary.” In Guatemala, “Ladino” refers to the Spanish-speaking minority of the population, who are of mixed European, usually Spanish, and indigenous ancestry; “Indian” is understood to mean the majority of Guatemala’s population, who speak one of the twenty-one languages in the Maya linguistic groups of the country, although levels of bilingualism are very high among most Maya communities. As French shows, the Guatemalan state has actively promoted a racialized, essentialized notion of “Indians” as an undifferentiated, inherently inferior group that has stood stubbornly in the way of national progress, unity, and development—which are, implicitly, the goals of “true Guatemalans” (that is, Ladinos). French shows, with useful examples, how constructions of language and collective identity are in fact strategies undertaken to serve the goals of institutions (including the government, the military, the educational system, and the church) and social actors (including linguists, scholars, and activists). But by incorporating in-depth fieldwork with groups that speak Kaqchikel and K’iche’ along with analyses of Spanish-language discourses, Maya Ethnolinguistic Identity also shows how some individuals in urban, bilingual Indian communities have disrupted the essentializing projects of multiculturalism. And by focusing on ideologies of language, the author is able to explicitly link linguistic forms and functions with larger issues of consciousness, gender politics, social positions, and the forging of hegemonic power relations. University of Arizona Press
Education and Degrees
Ph.D. in anthropology, University of Iowa, May 2001