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Naming Others: Translation and Subject Constitution in the Central Highlands of Angola (1926–1961)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Iracema Dulley*
Affiliation:
ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, Germany

Abstract

This paper proposes an ethnographic theorization of the relationship between naming, translation, and subject constitution via the analysis of forms of interpellation in colonial Angola. It engages critically with systemic/structural renderings of colonial society that portray social positions as oppositional to argue for a deconstructive approach attentive to historical disjunctions between naming and social positioning. Dwelling on core signifiers in Portuguese and Umbundu, the paper describes the iterative chain of substitutions through which subjects have been constituted, that is, reduced and transformed. For instance, how are the Umbundu status signifiers ocimbundu and ocindele reduced in their respective translations as “black” and “white”? How can translation both re-enact and challenge the constitution of racialized and ethnicized categories of difference? How is this related to transformations in Angolan history? The argument put forth challenges the conventional understanding of social categories in the context of Portuguese colonialism in Angola by arguing that the performativity of naming and translation constitutes subjects via both fixation and displacement. Therefore, the possibility of transformation does not lie in the intentional action of subjects, but in their capacity to operate within the fractures of the relationship between language and society by drawing on disjunctions between signifier and signified, names and social positioning, subjective constitution and sociopolitical context.

Type
Names, Narratives, and Hidden Transcripts
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History

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Footnotes

Acknowledgments: This article was based on research funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). I thank Evanthia Patsiaoura, Zeynep Gursel, Marcelo Mello, Ariel Rolim, and Marta Jardim for their comments on earlier versions of the text.

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