Language, Power, and Social Justice

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 15, 2019 - August 02, 20197/15 - 8/02M-F 12:15P-3:05POpenLynnette Arnold

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Course Description

This course examines the connections between language, power, and social justice. Using ideas and methods from linguistic anthropology, students will explore how current inequalities at the local, national, and global levels are perpetuated through language. At the same time, students will learn about the efforts of linguistic anthropologists and other scholars to use language to advance social justice, using multiple case studies to develop critical understandings of how language can both reinforce and challenge current injustices.

To broadly explore the connections between language, power, and social justice, this course will investigate this intersection in several arenas of social life, including education, health, law and policy. Drawing on contemporary examples, students will learn how language can both produce and combat inequalities in each of these arenas. To complement this breadth with depth, the course will emphasize racial injustices. We will read critical scholarship discussing how processes of racialization through language are central to the production of inequality in each of these areas, while also considering how current movements for racial justice strategically utilize language. This course will prepare students for further studies not only in linguistic anthropology and linguistics, but in the social sciences more broadly, by introducing them to key ways of studying human experience.

Students will explore these themes through assigned readings, including Jane Hill’s influential text The Everyday Language of White Racism as well as case studies in a forthcoming edited volume on Language and Social Justice in Practice. Other concepts and theories will be presented in short article-length readings, through screening educational videos or in brief lectures. For more details on assessment, see the above section on teaching goals.

This course design is based on the instructor’s two years of experience teaching linguistic anthropology in high school settings (see above section on teaching experience).

By the end of this course, students will:

1. Have a clear understanding of how language shores up inequalities of many kinds.
2. Be able to think critically about how language might be used to challenge these inequalities.
3. Be able to identify and utilize basic theories, concepts, and methods of linguistic anthropology.
4. Apply these critical perspectives to develop recommendations for linguistic interventions that advance sociolinguistic justice.

Prerequisites: This course will not require background in linguistic anthropology or linguistics, as these are not generally included in the high school curriculum. Although there are no formal pre-requisites for the course, it is designed especially for high school seniors to foster the development of the habits of mind – especially synthesis and application – that are crucial to a successful college education.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEAN0933
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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