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Against Apartheid: Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Language Ideology in Northern Namibia

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 86, Number 1, Winter 2013
pp. 191-220 | 10.1353/anq.2013.0004



Nationalist and cosmopolitan identities and projects are generally presented as mutually antithetical. I draw on evidence from research on language attitudes in northern Namibia to argue that they may actually enable each other. In Namibia, nationalist and internationalist perspectives have dominated discourses about political identity and community, and new language policies were designed and implemented to facilitate Namibia’s transformation from apartheid state to nation-state. Yet a close examination of popular discourses about language reveals a strongly cosmopolitan orientation rooted in opposition to apartheid ideology and in participation in the migrant labor economy. I argue that in this case, cosmopolitan orientations have facilitated the rise of nationalism while nationalism has enabled people to carry out cosmopolitan projects.

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