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Critical Discourse Studies

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Kurdish identity, discourse, and new media

Deniz Ekici
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Middle Tennessee State University , UK E-mail: Published online: 24 Jul 2013.

To cite this article: Critical Discourse Studies (2013): Kurdish identity, discourse, and new media, Critical Discourse Studies, DOI: 10.1080/17405904.2013.793045 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2013.793045

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Critical Discourse Studies, 2013


Kurdish identity, discourse, and new media, by Jaffer Sheyholislami, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 252 pp., 58 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-230-10985-8 The rise of nationalism and national identities in recent decades coincides with two other recent axioms in a wide array of social sciences that: (1) national identities are discursively constructed as the products of imagined communities and (2) modern communication technologies play a signicant role in both construction and dissemination of identity discourses (Anderson, 2006; Billig, 1995; McLuhan, 1964). Viewing identity formation as a discursive process, critical discourse analysis (CDA) has become an effective tool/approach in investigating the relationship between language, power and ideology with the aim of explaining ideological functions of language in social power abuse, dominance, inequality and manipulations (van Dijk, 2003; Fairclough, 1995; Wodak, de Cillia, Reisigl, & Liebhart, 1999). A few works in the eld of Kurdish studies have recognized the power of modern communication technologies in construction and dissemination of Kurdish national identity (Hassanpour, 1998; Romano, 2002). However, these works lack a signicant empirical investigation of Kurdish discourse of identity, a gap which could be lled by linguistically informed discursive studies on mass media. Kurdish identity, discourse, and new media is the rst book to ll the gap by investigating the interrelationship between national identity, discourse and modern communication technologies, in the Kurdish case. Going beyond theoretical perspectives on discourse, the book analyzes the discursive construction of Kurdish identity through empirical data coming from Kurdistan TV (KTV) and the Kurdish Internet websites, meticulously collected by the author. Sheyholislami conducts close textual analyses of the Kurdish media using CDA to reveal discursive strategies/practices as well as linguistic and audiovisual signs utilized in Kurdish identity discourse. The close textual analyses of textual extracts from Kurdish media sources illustrate the way language operates in the construction of identities in new media technologies. The author complements the textual analyses with analysis of the sociocultural and political matrix to explain how social, cultural and political context inuence the ways texts are produced, distributed and consumed (p. 15). The book consists of nine chapters, which in turn can be divided into two sections. The rst section (Chapters 14) contains theoretical and methodological considerations, including CDA, and outlines key assumptions and major conceptual issues about identity and nationalism. It also elaborates the interrelationship between discourse, national identity and media. Furthermore, it provides the reader with a background about Kurdish history and the fragmented nature of Kurdish identity. This section also contains an interesting and insightful discussion of the reasons behind failure of the traditional media (e.g. the press, radio and cable television) to construct an imagined Kurdish community and the success of modern communication technologies (e.g. satellite TVs and the Internet) in the construction and dissemination of the discourses of national identities. Sheyholislami adopts an eclectic methodology by combining Faircloughs threedimensional framework (Fairclough, 1995) and the Discourse-Historical Approach developed by the Viennese school of CDA (Wodak et al., 1999). The Faircloughian approach affords the author with the opportunity to analyze his empirical data at (1) textual, (2) discourse practice

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Book review

and (3) sociocultural practice levels, whereas a modied1 version of the Discourse-Historical Approachs formulation of thematic or semantic macro areas has provided him with a framework for thematic content analysis (Wodak et al., 1999, p. 30). The second section (Chapters 5 9) constitutes the core of the book as far as the analysis of the empirical data is concerned. Chapter 5 deals with the discursive practices of KTV, notably the processes of text production, dissemination and consumption. This investigation of KTVs discourse practices revolves around whether KTV programming promotes a cross-border, pan-Kurdish (national) identity or rather a local (Iraqi Kurdistan) (national) identity. After identifying the channels discursive practices, the author turns to the linguistic realization of these discourse practices in his analysis of textual properties e.g. lexical and grammatical choices, metaphorical devices and audiovisual signs. Focusing on the issue of ownership, the analysis reveals how the channel refrains from overt construction of a greater Kurdistan in KTVs discourse, which is in line with the political interests of its owner, the KDP. The KDP is arguably the most powerful political party that aspires not to establishing a greater Kurdistan state but to securing regional autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan within a federal Iraq (p. 6). For example, in his analysis of KTVs weather report as well as a patriotic music video clip frequently aired on KTV, the author, deconstructing the text and visual images, ingeniously reveals the subtle ways in which KTV reproduces the concept of greater Kurdistan. Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted to the discursive practices and textual analysis of Kurdish Internet space, respectively, by utilizing a similar methodological framework. Chapter 7 is focused on the Kurdish Internet spaces such as websites, chat rooms, YouTube and Facebook. Here, the author highlights the notion of empowerment through the Internet for the alternative voice of marginalized groups who have been excluded from the center of power and media access. While highlighting the fact that both digital divide and political censorship perpetuated by regional states hamper the Kurds easy access to the Internet, Sheyholislami convincingly illustrates how the Kurdish Internet attempts to construct an overtly cross-border, pan-Kurdish national identity vis-a-vis the more regional nevertheless subtly pan-Kurdish discourse of KTV. Chapter 8 is concerned with the analysis of the textual (verbal and audiovisual) content of various websites, focusing on discursive strategies, such as naming practices nominalizations, deixis and overlexcializations. One of the underlying research questions answered in this chapter is whether online sources are instrumental in unifying or further fragmenting Kurdish national identity. For instance, the author observes that the discourse of the Kurdish Internet is overtly pan-Kurdish, transcending regional, sectarian and linguistic difference and strengthening a collective sense of belonging meanwhile inadvertently making Kurds realize what can come to be perceived as crucial differences among themselves. As an example, he highlights the bi-standard nature of the Kurdish language, i.e. Kurmanji written in Latin-based alphabet and Sorani written in Arabic-modied alphabet and he problematizes whether or not their use in the Internet causes further fragmentation among Kurds. The nal chapter of the book is dedicated to sociocultural practices as the broad contextualization level for the three-dimensional CDA framework. Here, the author situates his ndings at the discourse practice and textual levels in a wider frame of social, economic and political circumstances in which the texts were produced and interpreted. The author explores possible social, economic and political causes, purposes, values or motivations that might lie behind a particular identity discourse and the possible implications of these identity discourses in media for Kurds. Since Faircloughs schemata does not consist of three separate levels of analysis, but rather three complementary aspects of a communicative event (Fairclough, 1995), it might be difcult to make a clear distinction between the Faircloughian levels of analysis, particularly between macro analysis of discourse practices and micro-textual analysis. Despite this, Sheyholislami manages to apply this framework to his data successfully with a clear distinction between the

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Book review

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two levels. This is where drawing on Discourse-Historical Approach has helped the author to successfully account for his levels of analysis in a systematic manner. This selective approach proves very fruitful as it yields insightful analysis of the discursive construction of Kurdish identity. Given the crucial role of close textual analysis in this study, I would have liked to see a few more instances of such analysis, particularly in Chapter 8 where the author conducts close textual analysis of the Kurdish Internet. Nevertheless, this minor shortcoming takes nothing away from the textual richness of the analysis. In summary, this book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the complex interrelationship between discourse, power and media technologies. More specically, the contributions of this study are twofold: while it contributes to the eld of discourse analysis by demonstrating the applicability of the CDA to the identity discourse of a stateless nation, it also provides invaluable insights into the eld of Kurdish studies as it remarkably illustrates the interface between modern communication technologies, language and identity, and ways in which language and discourse function in the construction of Kurdish national identity.

1. These content areas are: the discursive construction of a common history; the discursive construction of a common present and future; the discursive construction of common language; the discursive construction of common national symbols; and the discursive construction of a common territory and homeland. While in Wodak et al.s account, language is a mere component of cultural content of the Austrian identity, it becomes a major identity marker in the Kurdish case that deserves to be treated under a separate section, according to the author.

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reections on the origins and spread of nationalism. London: Verso. Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London: Sage. van Dijk, T. A. (2003). Critical discourse analysis. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H. E. Hamilton (Eds.), The handbook of discourse analysis (pp. 352 371). Oxford: Blackwell. Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London: Longman. Hassanpour, A. (1998). Satellite footprints as national borders: Med-tv and the extraterritoriality of state sovereignty. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 18(1), 53 72. McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York, NY: Mentor Books. Romano, D. (2002). Modern communications technology in ethnic nationalist hands: The case of the Kurds. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 35(1), 127149. Wodak, R., de Cillia, R., Reisigl, M., & Liebhart, K. (1999). The discursive construction of national identity. (A. Hirsch & R. Mitten, Trans.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Deniz Ekici Middle Tennessee State University dekici@mtsu.edu # 2013, Deniz Ekici http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2013.793045