James M. Wilce, PhD

James M. Wilce Professor
Northern Arizona University
Blg 70 Rm #210
Phone: 928-523-2729
Personal Page


  • linguistic anthropology
  • medical discourse
  • face-to-face interaction
  • embodiment
  • emotion, self, and language
  • methods (playback interviewees, discourse and text analysis, video analysis, the ethnography of communication)
  • globalization
  • New Age, Christianity, Islam and the anthropology of religion
  • madness
  • verbal art and poetics
  • Finland
  • South Asia


Dr. Wilce, a linguistic, medical, and pscychological anthropologist, studies language and social interaction in relation to medicine, illness and healing, and psychiatry.

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 Bangladesh

More broadly, Wilce studies language and emotion, the subject of his two 2009 books (Crying Shame) http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405169923,descCd-authorInfo.html, and Language and Emotion (http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item2327355/?site_locale=en_GB). He 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, http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0822512&version=noscript).

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 (http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-410785.html)

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.