Adam Harr

Associate Professor Anthropology Department
Adam Harr

Adam Harr (Ph.D. University of Virginia) I've always been fascinated by language and languages. As an undergrad, I majored in English and concentrated in poetry because I was captivated by poets’ ability to crystalize complex ideas and feelings in images, rhythms, and rhymes. After college, I moved to Java, Indonesia because I wanted to be immersed in languages and cultures that were as far as possible from my beloved home in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. I found jobs teaching English to Javanese bankers, doctors, and middle-schoolers, went to countless all-night gamelan and wayang performances, and was fortunate enough to be invited to live with a Javanese family whose domestic rhythms were often strikingly familiar and sometimes thrillingly new to me. I returned to the U.S. the following year, my brain buzzing with questions. Wishing to unpack my experiences, I wheedled my way into my first anthropology course at the University of Virginia and saw how the study of cultures could be empirically rooted in the study of languages. The professor for the course, Eve Danziger, encouraged me to apply to the doctoral program in anthropology. I was a first-generation college student and had never even imagined myself getting a PhD, but the prospect excited me beyond words. The mentoring I received in UVA’s anthropology department continues to be the foundation of my teaching and research.

Much of my research is concerned with how social change is reflected in and precipitated by people’s use of different languages. Since 2002, I have conducted twenty-eight months of field research in multilingual communities in the highlands of central Flores, an island in eastern Indonesia. People in these communities speak the Indonesian national language in addition to the Lio language, one of several hundred languages in Indonesia that are classified as “local” or “tribal” languages. My central research questions have been: What social contexts are considered appropriate for the Indonesian language and what contexts are appropriate for the Lio language? Under what circumstances can these contexts shift? What are the social, political, and linguistic implications of Indonesian shifting into a Lio context, and vice-versa? Answering these questions will shed light on the broader set of complex processes that are presently leading to the extinction of the majority of humanity's languages in the 21st century.

At St. Lawrence University, I feel privileged to teach courses in linguistic and cultural anthropology, including Language and Human Experience, Writing Culture, and Medicines and Meanings. In each of my courses, I aim to collaborate with students in hopes that we all come away with a renewed sense of wonder at the strange/beautiful/terrible worlds we humans create and inhabit.

Selected Publications

  • 2020 Recentering the Margins? The Politics of "Local Language" in a Decentralizing Indonesia. In Contact Talk: The Discursive Construction of Contact and Boundaries, edited by Zane Goebel, Debbie Cole, and Howard Manns. Routledge.
  • 2019 Sociolinguistic Scale and Ethnographic Rapport. In Rapport and the Discursive Co-Construction of Social Relations in Fieldwork Settings, edited by Zane Goebel. Mouton de Gruyter.
  • 2015 Moving Words: Christian Language in the Modern World. In Reviews in Anthropology 44: 1-17.
  • 2013 Suspicious Minds: Problems of Cooperation in a Lio Ceremonial Council. In Language & Communication 33(3): 317-326.

Recent Presentations

  • 2019 “The Sociolinguistic Scale of Ritual” presented the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Vancouver BC, Nov  21
  • 2019 "Shifting Ideologies of Language and Place in an Eastern Indonesian Polity" presented at the Symposium on Analyzing Ideologies, Attitudes, and Power in Language Contact Settings, Stockholm University, May 16-17
  • 2017 “Scaling the Nation: Multilingual Politics in a Decentralizing Indonesia” presented at the Conference on Contact-Induced Multilingual Practices, University of Helsinki, June 1-2
  • 2016 "All Politics is Local: Spatial Deixis as Rhetoric in an Eastern Indonesian Polity" presented at Symposium on Language, Indexicality, and Belonging, Oxford University, April 7-8
  • 2015 “Recentering the Margins? The Politics of Local Language in a Decentralizing Indonesia” presented at the Conference on the Sociolinguistics of Globalization at the University of Hong Kong, June 3-6

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