In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India. Alpa Shah. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. 288 pp.American Ethnologist




Book Reviews

Political Oratory and Cartooning: An Ethnography of

Democratic Process in Madagascar. Jennifer Jackson.

Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. xxvi + 257 pp.


University of Toronto

Political Oratory and Cartooning is a terrific book. It is a wholly original and pathbreaking approach to political language (or the language of politics) as it rethinks democracy itself as a kind of orchestration of voice and speaking. It is also an authoritative and skillful account of how two genres of language, namely political speeches and political cartooning, deployed in the capital of Madagascar, establish their publics. It further charts transformations in the nature of Malagasy oratory and how these changes are captured in both cartooning and the ways speechwriters and cartoonists talk about their work and each other’s products. Hence, the book dives right into the question of how “democracy”mightwork in a country likeMadagascar. Jackson herself is a stunningly proficient speaker of Malagasy; she took courses in traditional oratory and hung out with speechwriters and cartoonists as they crafted their work.

The result is riveting as Jackson knits together a deep structuralist hermeneutics ofMalagasy speeches and cartoons to produce a complex sociolinguistic, pragmatic, and semiotic analysis.

The background to all of this is the fascinating rise and fall of President Marc Ravalomanana, who, in a radical dissolution of French colonial and postcolonial influence, was tutored by American campaign advisors. Not only was the new style of oratory disconcerting, it actually watered down the democracy the advisors supposedly advocated. American rhetoric is not really transparent—that is, pure language ideology—but, rather, about image. Desperately trying to regain popular support, Ravalomanana next hired a British anthropologist to teach him traditional oratory (Freeman 2007). But in the end the main problem lay less with his speeches than in his attempts to redirect the business of the state into his own private enterprises, forcing other business out of competition. There was a kind of elective affinity between the president’s anxious need to accumulate and neoliberalism—something his American handlers must have recognized from the start.

Starting from a perspective of linguistic anthropology,

Jackson provides an account of talk at multiple levels. First, she is interested in oratory, and, specifically, in how political speeches draw on but also depart from the conventions of ordinary speaking. Second, there is talk about talk—that is, the kinds of commentary and criticism leveled at the way the speeches are constructed and conducted. One form of commentary is cartooning, which then becomes subject for analysis in its own right—as another form of primary talk, as it were—and that also gets talked about, not least by the large number of citizens who look at the cartoons that grace the covers of the capital’s many newspapers. Third, there is talk about talk about talk—which is Jackson’s analysis of the ways in which talk places speakers and auditors in relation to each other and as citizens of specific kinds—divided and related by gender and age, degrees of politeness, and skill— but also by class and other scales of social value that are both indicated and produced by distinctions among kinds of talk—and by the way that talk gets talked about. Finally, there is the relation of what is being said or unsaid, and how it is being said or silenced, to what is getting done—or not getting done—as evident in the cartoonists’ skepticism about the speeches and the linguistic production of truth.

Contemporary political speeches draw on what

Jackson lucidly describes as interanimating registers indexing at least three historical periods. First there is “traditional” highland Malagasy oratory. This originates in the precolonial period, near the end of which the Merina kingdom of the capital region had conquered a good part of the rest of the island. This oratory, associated with the old elite, relies on the use of speech forms like proverbs; it moves slowly and allusively, in twists and turns, to make its point. Political oratory (kabary), Jackson explains, is designed to make people think rather than to convince them of a specific truth. Its elaboration and metaphorical allusiveness are its very heart. Oratory exaggerates selected features intrinsic to ordinary language, notably the passive voice. This occurs syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically as orators apologize for the mistakes they are about to make and for their very temerity at speaking at all.

Drawing on concepts of imagined community and publics,

Jackson argues that the point is to get the audience to realize itself and come together “not over a particular issue but as a particular kind of people” (p. 81). The ostensibly

AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 193–227, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425. C© 2014 by the American Anthropological Association.

All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/amet.12070

American Ethnologist  Volume 41 Number 1 February 2014 ultradeferential manner of speaking can have very powerful effects, not least a demonstration of the orator’s eloquence and worth as a leader.

The second register in political speeches is a Christian one. Highlanders in the capital region were converted by the LondonMissionary Society (LMS) in the precolonial period. The LMS provided printing presses and achieved high rates of literacy, hence, also the wide spread of newspapers. (The French, whose conquest came later, had less impact on oratory but certainly influenced the style of political cartooning.) Politicians draw on qualities of the sermon, both in their biblical references and in their cadence. However,

Ravalomanana’s speeches hadmore affinity with an aggressively evangelizing rhetoric than with the style of Merina

Protestantism that itself had drawn on conventions of the kabary.