Hallie Wells F'17
Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2017
University of California, Berkeley
Moving Words: Malagasy Slam Poetry at the Intersection of Performance, Politics, and Circulation
This project analyzes how understandings of democracy and free expression are shaped by the circulation of slam poetry as it both draws from and contends with centuries-old genres of public discourse in Madagascar. Slam—a performance poetry competition born in the United States in the 1980s—has flourished around the world, but nowhere more than Madagascar, where verbal art forms such as kabary (oratory) were a foundational site for anthropological studies of performance and politics, and where the idea that words have power is nothing new. This dissertation shows how slam poets and other verbal artists perform and reform notions of the public sphere, evaluations of authority and competence, and norms of indirectness and deference, thus providing critical insight into the impact of language ideologies on the political and economic livelihoods of communities.