James M. Wilce, PhD
Office: Bldg 98D, Rm 101E
- linguistic anthropology
- the ethnography of communication
- medical discourse
- self and emotion
- verbal art
- South Asia
Dr. Wilce, a linguistic anthropologist, studies language and
social interaction in relation to medicine, illness and healing, and
His ethnographic research began in Bangladesh, forming the
basis of his first book—on sickness, gender relations, power, and resistance as
manifest in genres of complaint. His early focus on forms of madness and
familial coping in those rural settings gave way in the last decade to a
critical focus on psychiatric discourse and the history of psychiatry in
More broadly, Wilce studies language and emotion, the
subject of his two 2009 books (Crying Shame)
and Language and Emotion
is a globally acknowledged expert on lament—spontaneous improvised crying
songs—lecturing in France, Canada, Australia, as well as at the University of
Chicago and Harvard. Recordings of these special lectures are available to NAU
student through the library.
His lament fieldwork has shifted from Bangladesh to Finland,
funded by the National Science Foundation (grant number 0822512,
From 2005 to 2008 Wilce brought to NAU an externally funded
speaker series, Language Across the Univers(ity) http://home.nau.edu/%5Csbs%5Canthro%5CLinguisticSpeaker.asp which is having a great impact on our graduate program, our
faculty, the administration, and the whole community.
Wilce’s publishing activities center not only on his own
books and articles but his work as editor of the few viable book series
focusing on ethnographic monographs in linguistic anthropology today, Blackwell Studies in Discourse and Culture
The appearance of Marjorie Harness Goodwin’s Hidden Life of Girls as the first
book in the series establishes Wilce and the series as absolutely central to the
discipline of linguistic anthropology today. Since then a stream of great books
has appeared in the series, including Jane Hill’s Everyday Language of White Racism.
Current research and applied projects
Language and emotion
Dr. Wilce’s recently completed (2008-2011) research project
focused on the “revival” (more accurately a “reinvention”) of lament
(improvised crying songs), sung in a very particular linguistic register, and
currently contextualized as a form of self-help therapy.
The project centered on the revival of lament in Finland,
spearheaded by Äänellä Itkijät, ry (the Finnish Lament Society). This ongoing
linguistic and ethnographic investigation has led to rich collaboration with
scholars and activists in Finland, as well as a stream of articles under
preparation. The project extends Dr. Wilce’s long-term interest in language and
emotion, performance, semiotics, power, and healing.
The Finland project (both the 2008-2011 and its successor)
will continue contribute to our theories of culture, change, and revival,
offering a vision of culture as something conscious and intentionally
manipulable rather than unconsciously inherited.
The Lament Society sees its task as helping the (putatively)
emotionally-challenged Finnish majority by offering them
linguistic/poetic/musical/cultural techniques associated with lament and
fostered traditionally by ethnic minorities in Finland and neighboring
countries—Finnic peoples such as Karelians.
The next stage of the project, to be funded (hopefully)
starting in 2012, will examine “emotion pedagogies” more broadly in Finland,
from a curriculum for K-6 students that teaches them to talk about their own
feelings and empathize with others, to New Age courses that combine lessons in
expressing feelings more assertively with shamanistic elements.