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Every knot says a lot - Penelope’s Odyssey in the Eastern Cape

Researcher: Penelope Allsobrook
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Anne Storch

‘Land’ and ‘language’: both are as closely linked to the concepts of sharing of resources and of hospitality, as they are to gatekeeping and hoarding. Linguistics can serve to link people to each other and to the land; it can also do the opposite. Both land and language can be used to heal as well as to divide.

I explore this seeming paradox in my PhD dissertation through learning and then using the lens of my other mother’s tongue, isiXhosa. In so doing, I hope to present a deeper understanding of the ‘Land Question’ in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. My methodological approach aims to counteract the contemporary tendency of linguistics’ becoming an increasingly exclusivist and expert-driven discipline which tries to domesticate what is written and said in its name. I employ, rather, a more integrative, responsible linguistics which is participatory and fluid, and which takes account of the multiplicity of interwoven voices, for example linguistics of the commons and of connectedness, embodied linguistics, or praxis linguistics (Storch and Faraclas 2017). Taking into account Lacan’s definition of the unconscious as structured like a language, my project also aims at combining the above-mentioned with a psychoanalytically informed Lacanian ontology of topological qualities secured by the Borromean knot’s set of spatio-temporal relations (Lacan 1974-5; Greenshields 2017).

The ‘Land Question’ is often used as a name for all sorts of other concepts, such as injustice, reparations, dignity, belonging, racial identity, heritage and sustainable livelihoods. As this could essentially be seen as a question of displaced people having displaced conversations with the issue of land (dis)possession as a proxy, it appears fitting to connect the conceptual tools of Lacanian topology with gesellige, hospitable linguistics.

The setting of my research is the Amathole District, Raymond Mhlaba Municipality, where my focus lies on the Tyhume Valley as well as the edge of the Winterberg mountains, in the two rural towns of Alice (Dikeni) and Bedford (Nyarha). It includes also one urban area, namely the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality.