Cover of Unruly Speech by Saskia Witteborn
Unruly Speech
Displacement and the Politics of Transgression
Saskia Witteborn


January 2023
250 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503633391
Paperback ISBN: 9781503634305
Ebook ISBN: 9781503634312

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Unruly Speech explores how Uyghurs in China and in the diaspora transgress sociopolitical limits with "unruly" communication practices in a quest for change. Drawing on research in China, the United States, and Germany, Saskia Witteborn situates her study against the backdrop of displacement and shows how naming practices and witness accounts become potent ways of resistance in everyday interactions and in global activism. Featuring the voices of Uyghurs from three continents, Unruly Speech analyzes the discursive and material force of place names, social media, surveillance, and the link between witnessing and the discourse on human rights. The book provides a granular view of disruptive communication: its global political moorings and socio-technical control. The rich ethnographic study will appeal to audiences interested in migration and displacement, language and social interaction, advocacy, digital surveillance, and a transnational China.

About the author

Saskia Witteborn is Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). She coauthored the SAGE Handbook of Media and Migration (2020) and Together: Communicating Interpersonally: A Social Construction Approach (6th ed., 2005).

"Based on a rigorous, multi-sited ethnography conducted in Xinjiang and within diasporas in Germany and the United States, Unruly Speech is a thorough inquiry into transgressive spaces of testimony and advocacy under digital surveillance in totalitarian regimes. It provides an important contribution to the anthropology of resistance."

—Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study and the Collège de France

"Unruly Speech is a compelling multi-sited ethnography of Uyghur communication practices as they are shaped by both oppressive state measures and migratory routes. Addressing the special affordances and hazards of digital media, this book makes a significant and timely contribution to communication research and to the study of globalization through its emphasis on transnational movement and process."

—Tamar Katriel, author of Defiant Discourse

"In Unruly Speech, Saskia Witteborn provides a clever ethnography of communication practices and processes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China and in the Uyghur diasporas in Germany and the United States.... This way, Witteborn builds a conceptual bridge between the material process of displacement and the symbolic dislocation of meaning."

—Andrew Fallone, International Affairs

"Unruly Speech is itself a testimonio to the strength and resilience of Uyghur communities who have been enduring severe political, social, and cultural dispossessions over the past two decades. The book bridges anthropology and communication studies through its ethnographic methodology of communication and critical self-reflexivity. It contributes to migration literature, language and social interaction literature, and the study of contemporary China and Uyghur lifeworlds from a global perspective. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in delving into a hopeful world of transgressive possibilities."

—Jing Wang, American Ethnologist

"[Unruly Speech] demonstrate[s] the continued fruitfulness for future scholarship about culture across national and international borders, within and outside of organizations."

—Trudy Milburn, Management Communication Quarterly