The performative and the politics of representation : the case of African American female RnB songs

Chama, Dounia (2009). The performative and the politics of representation : the case of African American female RnB songs. PhD thesis The Open University.



The aim of the thesis is to explore the politics of representation in African American female RnB songs using the concept of the performative and, in doing so, to demonstrate the usefulness of speech-act theory. Using a method of textual analysis based on speech-act theory, the thesis investigates the socio-linguistics of RnB record-texts.

The key issue is to explore the scope and limitations of the political agency at play in black female RnB record-texts, given a racist, sexist, and class-based social context. The thesis shows how the strategies of resistance used by African American women in recorded song may be located along a continuum between two socio-linguistic poles. Marking the constraints of social structure, and thus defining the continuum, these two socio-linguistic poles expose the impossibility to perform effectively pure speech acts in an unequal society by pointing out the limits of subverted, nihilistic language on the one hand, and of straightforward, celebratory language, on the other. Positioning the record-text in concrete social relations, the continuum brings out the social implications at stake in RnB songs.

Crucially, implication from music to social relations is what is at stake throughout and specifically the tension in contemporary female RnB between the social structures of race, gender and class, on the one hand, and black women’s political agency through music, on the other. In sum, the thesis shows how the strategies embodied in women’s RnB record-texts exemplify a form of on-going resistance to concrete historical conditions. In showing this, the thesis illuminates the productiveness of speech-act theory in the area of cultural studies and demonstrates how the method of performative analysis - though text-based - is reliable and valid enough to the extent that it allows plausible conclusions to be made about the social meaning of record-texts.

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