Why do we need Chineseness?: The Value of Sinophone Anthropological Linguistic Investigations to European and Mediterranean Identity Studies

Authors: Philip Freestone (University of Reading, U.K.)
Speakers: Zoe Nikolaidou, Maria Rydell
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
COMELA 2021 General Session


Drawing on data from a linguistic-anthropological study of the practices of same-gender-attracted men in Chengdu and Taipei, I explore the potential value of Sinophone work on local and transnational discourses of sexual and gender identity to European and Mediterranean research. I use the tools of socio-cultural discourse analysis to analyse related ideological complexity through close analysis of individual cases of ostensibly banal identity work. This often entails the appropriation of relatively stable, enregistered forms of identity such as “Chinese”, but I suggest that these often obscure diversity of lived experience. Approaching the vast cultural diversity of the geographical and cultural spaces like that labelled “Chinese” in this way arguably has important potential applications in all broadly “Western” contexts, especially those where significant ethnic diversity is subsumed under broad identity categories (e.g. “European” and “Mediterranean”).

I propose that an individualised focus on discourse appropriation and/or resistance tends to reveal considerable intersubjectivity in all culturally superdiverse regions and suggest that work on “Chineseness” therefore provides useful tools for investigating such themes in other cultural contexts. In particular, the unique economic and socio-political diversity of Sinophone cultural contexts (including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) highlights specific nuances of continually emergent identity. These can be usefully applied to Europe and the Mediterranean contexts because these also feature transnational social and ideological re-centring and the entailed appropriation of discourses with fuzzy philosophical, political, geographical and cultural ties. I argue, therefore, that viewing European and Mediterranean identities in the light of recent Sinophone studies facilitates a timely problematisation of the continuing tendency for essentialist implications in related literature. Furthermore, I suggest that such an approach has potential for considerable social impact through its elucidation of some of the nuances of individuals’ day-to-day navigation of social constraints.

Keywords: Identity, performativity, discourse, Sinophone, sexuality, European, Mediterranean