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A Critical Discourse Analysis of Neocolonialism in Patricia McCormick’s Sold A companion to Chapter 4 by Manika Subi Lakshmanan From the companion website.

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Presentation on theme: "A Critical Discourse Analysis of Neocolonialism in Patricia McCormick’s Sold A companion to Chapter 4 by Manika Subi Lakshmanan From the companion website."— Presentation transcript:

1 A Critical Discourse Analysis of Neocolonialism in Patricia McCormick’s Sold A companion to Chapter 4 by Manika Subi Lakshmanan From the companion website for Rogers, R. (2011). An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education, 2nd edition. New York: Taylor and Francis at

2 Aim of Presentation This presentation demonstrates how I brought together semiotic analysis, seven building tasks and post-colonial theory.

3 Literature About the World: Assumptions Bridges cultures and nations Opens minds to diversity and global challenges Encourages reflection Should not only “teach students about the world in which they live but also transform them into engaged, active citizens” (McKenna, 2007, p. 166). (Bishop, 1990; Botelho and Rudman, 2009; Hadaway, 2007; Lakshmanan, 2009; Lepman, 1969; Stan, 2002).

4 The Concern Literature on contemporary South Asia is often about existing social injustices. Teaching guides solicit active engagement in transformative global action. I argue that in spite of the indisputable commitment to human rights and the pedagogical need to foster empathy and further social justice, a critical stance needs to be alert to the morphing of hegemonic processes in the “third worlding” of social action. What power relations emanate from the text? How is social change enacted in the text?

5 The Focus of this Study: Sold (2006) by Patricia McCormick Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi is sold into prostitution by a destitute and greedy stepfather. In the red light district of Kolkata she is beaten into submission. But she also discovers friendship and the joys of literacy. Lakshmi is finally rescued by an American.

6 The Lens Literature is about “who is saying what to whom for what purposes” (Eagleton, 1991, p. 9) Literature as discourse does not distinguish between the literary text, the non-literary, and social practice. Post-colonial theory and colonial discourse analysis addresses the discourses used to view, represent, and construe non-Western people. James Paul Gee’s (2006) “seven building tasks” We use language and other semiotic systems to construct seven interrelated tasks: significance, activities, identities, relationships, politics, connections, and sign systems and knowledge.

7 Question How does the enactment of significance, activities, identities, relationships, connections, and knowledge practices condition the political discourse on individual/social change in literature written by North Americans about “third world” developing countries?

8 Method Analyze visual semiotics of the cover. Identify vignettes with parallel structures, and stylistic repetition, as an example of significance. Analyze text in terms of the author’s intention and mode of recording. Locate intersections between the author, the cover, the text, discussion guide, and relate it to a macro societal Discourse.

9 Discourse in design: “language and visual communication can in many cases express the same kind of relations, albeit in many different ways” (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996, p. 211). When the discourse of visual sign systems is dismantled, the construct of the “third world” woman’s identity becomes evident. She is the not so modern, voiceless, or at best muffled subaltern, who demands (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996) a relationship of engagement and evaluation (Tagg, 1988). But is this a dominant discourse model that cuts across different genres of activity?

10 The similarity in the form of these two episodes draws connections between two domains: “cultural mandates” and sex trade. The fusion of culture and exploitation is underscored by the shawl as a connecting signifier. Everything I Need to Know (episode 11) Before today, Ama says, you could run as free as a leaf in the wind. Now, she says, you must carry yourself with modesty, bow your head in the presence of men, and cover yourself with your shawl. Never look a man in the eye… If he turns to you…you must… (pp. 15 – 16) Everything I Need to Know Now (episode 95) Before, when you were in the locked room…Mumtaz sent the customers to you. Now, if you want to pay off your debt you must do what it takes to make them choose you… Always wash yourself with a wet rag… If a customer likes you… Flick the ends of your shawl in a come-closer gesture…… ….Draw your shawl to your chin…. Press your shawl to your chin with the back of your hand…. when you must bring a dirty man to your bed. (pp. 141 – 142 ) In publisher Hyperion’s discussion guide, students are asked to: “Discuss the vignette entitled ‘Everything I Need to Know.’ What do you think of the cultural mandates that she must live by? Compare it to the vignette of the same title that appears later when she is in the city. How does it represent all the changes in her life?”

11 The repeated indefinite article “a” foregrounds each line, suggesting a dislocated and distanced relationship between the author/narrator and pastoral Nepal or urban India. As Lakshmi walks past the Himalayan countryside she sees: “A mad runner ringing a cluster of bells as he nears a village. A rope footbridge strung like a spider web. A river that runs white. And a man with teeth entirely of gold.” (p. 58) The indefinite article and disjointed imagery is repeated as she looks at urban India: “a man scooping hot popcorn into a paper cone, next to a barber lathering an old man’s face, next to a boy plucking the feathers from a lifeless chicken, next to…” (p. 65)

12 Literacy is articulated through the tropes of American childhood Lakshmi learns “American words” from a storybook given to her friend Harish, by an American lady. She can now say: “Big Bird, Elmo, ice cream, soccer.” (p. 174) Laclau and Mouffe (1985) describe hegemonic discourses as the result of articulation, where articulation is a “practice establishing relations among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of articulatory practice” (p. 105).

13 A political discourse on the good American abroad After “days of waiting for the American” who had promised to liberate her, there is a raid and Lakshmi’s American rescues her: I know this voice. It is my American…. It is an American, I whisper…. The American is shouting something …. he is calling out to me …. I cannot go to my American …. But I can still hear the American …. The American calls out…. My American is leaving….Something inside me breaks open, and I run down the steps…. I see my American. There are other men with him, Indian men, and the American lady from the picture.

14 Concluding Remarks An interconnected analysis of the cover image, text, and discussion guide reveals that a neocolonial political discourse on individual/social change in the “third world” is contingent on: 1. the positive equivalence of a chain of activities: friendship-literacy- enunciation of consciousness-the American-liberation. 2. the efficacy of this chain of equivalence depends on an oppositional relationship with another chain: culture-gender disempowerment- poverty-sexual exploitation. 3. These connections and oppositions negate the possibility of change from within the “third world.” 4. The promise of individual/social transformation is now open to a neocolonial discourse that portrays the subaltern third-worlder’s identity as “incapable of defining itself” (Said, 1979, p. 301) in an autonomous frame of reference.

15 Suggested Reading Eagleton, T. (1991). Ideology: An introduction. New York: Verso. Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. New York: Routledge. Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics (W. Moore & P. Cammack, Trans.). Thetford, Norfolk, UK: The Thetford Press. Lakshmanan, M.S. (2009, Spring). Looking beyond global literature as bridges, windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. The Dragon Lode, 27(2), 11–17. Said, E.W. (1979). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books. Tagg, J. (1988). The burden of representation. Amherst: University of Massachusetts.


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