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Sense-making, Agency, and Globalization: Local Representations of Development Encounters in Nicaragua


In recent years language and globalization has emerged as an important topic of study in linguistics and linguistic anthropology (Blommaert 2010, Coupland 2011, Fairclough 2006. Scholars have considered the macro-level effects of globalization through the lenses of language and materiality (Heller 2010) and political economy (Shankar and Cavanaugh 2012), as well as the function of individual agency within larger structures of globalization (Alim et al. 2008, Canagarajah 2013). Building on such work, the current paper examines Nicaraguan community members’ agentive participation within the structural constraints of globalizing encounters. Data are drawn from everyday interactions and interviews recorded in the course of ethnographic research on NGO-community relationships in central Nicaragua. I analyze locals’ discursive representation of development encounters as either moments of agentive acceptance of, or resistance to, globalizing processes. Drawing on a linguistic-anthropological approach to agency (Ahearn 2001, Duranti 2004), I examine the use of linguistic resources such as tense shifts, generic pronouns, and stance-taking to construct the NGO-community relationship as one that either affects the norms and practices of the inhabitants, therefore facilitating greater connectivity between the local and international communities, or one that provides solely material benefits, therefore limiting such connectivity and restricting development encounters to the transfer of material goods. Ultimately, I argue that while structural forces create globalizing interactions and constrain the frames within which community members can represent development encounters, individuals agentively participate in or resist globalization through interpreting their own roles in the interactions as well as the role of NGOs in the community.

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