Keyed Framing and Elite Fabrication in the Kam People’s Ethnic Cultural Reconstruction in Contemporary China

Author: Wei Wang (The University of Sydney)
Speaker: Wei Wang
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The GLOCAL CALA 2022 General Session


In response to challenges and opportunities posed by the social, political and cultural changes taking place in contemporary China, the ethnic minority people and the local governments have engaged in reconstruction of ethnic culture and identity with the goal of pursuing social and economic development in the ethnic minority regions. Mostly living in peripheral and underdeveloped areas in China, these people strive to develop the local economy by exploiting the rural and ethnic tourism resources, while taking reconstruction of their ethnic identity and culture as a preliminary form of tourism development. To investigate this social phenomenon, the researchers have conducted a discourse-oriented ethnographic study over three years from 2016 to 2019 in Congjiang County, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province in Southwest China. By drawing on the theories of discourse-oriented ethnography (Blommaert, 2005; Smart, 2012) and Goffman’s frame analysis (Goffman, 1974; Hill, 2014), this study examines the discourse practices that two agents, i.e., the local government and the local ethnic minority people, have employed in constructing and reproducing the Kam ethnic culture. Data collection over three years of fieldwork in this remote Kam area focused on the discourse instantiated in writing, speaking, or other symbol systems with the goal of exploring how members of this ethnic group perceived, created and maintained their shared ‘conceptual world’ of their ethnic culture collectively. In their concrete forms, the data include government and communal archives, interviews, fieldwork notes and local on-site signs with the focus on these two agents’ strategies and perspectives on the ethnic culture and identity reconstruction. This study identifies keyed framing adopted by the local government and elite fabrication adopted by the local Kam elites as the essential discursive practices in this cultural reconstruction process. Through extensive and recursive analysis of data, this study also illustrates the strong revealing effects that discourse-oriented ethnography and frame analysis can produce for ethnic studies.

Keywords: Discourse-oriented ethnography, Frame analysis, Ethnicity.