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The Mershon Research Network in Cultural Resilience (2014)

Brian Joseph (Linguistics) joseph.1@osu.edu
Dorothy Noyes (Folklore/English/Comp Studies/Mershon) noyes.10@osu.edu

The Mershon Research Network in Cultural Resilience is a past collaboration between the Center for Folklore Studies, the Department of Linguistics, and the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. It builds on Ohio State's deep expertise in the cultural and political dynamics of traditionally plural societies, calling on ground-level perspectives to enliven an exhausted policy debate over threats to linguistic and cultural diversity.

We address the problem at two levels:

  1. Well-meaning policy interventions to secure threatened cultures often perversely increase the precarity of bodies and social environments. What alternative approaches might be extrapolated from the habits of longstanding plural societies? What resources and conditions do these require? Can they be successfully hybridized with contemporary political and economic processes and normative commitments?
  2. To name a problem is to propose an explanatory paradigm and an appropriate mode of remediation. Labels are also political, pointing to legitimation narratives through which actors claim rights. Once reified as policy, concepts create incentives for actors and generate their own content. "Heritage" proposes a certain narrative about the cultural costs of progress; "sustainability" and "resilience" present other, also potentially problematic accounts. "Human rights," "social justice," and "capabilities," focusing on people rather than culture, are often less welcome idioms in contemporary halls of power. Similarly, grand-scale normative visions of "harmony," "convivencia," "diversity," etc., offer differing opportunity structures to weak or marginal actors while placing (or failing to place) differing obligations on the dominant population. What opportunities are afforded by the new policy idiom of resilience? What alternative understandings might we gain from vernacular idioms of difference and their implicit or explicit analytical frameworks?

We invite participation from Ohio State researchers in any discipline, particularly from graduate students (serious undergrads also welcome). Our goal is to create a sustained conversation that will improve research mentoring and dialogue, develop common resources for the field study of language and culture (including funding!), and make visible a latent strength of Ohio State. To be added to the network mailing list, please contact Cassie Patterson, Assistant Director of the Center for Folklore Studies. Other questions can be addressed to Brian or Dorry (contact info above).

To receive regular updates about events, request to be added to the cultural resilience listserv.


Beardslee, Thomas. Heritage vs. Capabilities in Jemaa el Fnaa Square, Marrakech May 1, 2014.

Cultural Resilience Reading Group Meeting, May 19, 2014. Brian Walker and David Salt's Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World (Washington: Island Press, 2006) Handout for Resilience Thinking [pdf].

Cultural Resilience Reading Group Meeting, August 19, 2014. Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1999)

Conference: Sustainable Pluralism: Linguistic and Cultural Resilience in Multiethnic Societies. September 4th-6th, 2014. Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Thurston, Tim. Telling Stories about Modernity: Northeast Tibetan in China's Reform Era. October 8, 2014.

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