Unruly Speech
Displacement and the Politics of Transgression
Saskia Witteborn


Contents and Abstracts
1 Introduction
chapter abstract

The chapter introduces the reader to Uyghurs in China and in the diaspora to make a case for unruly speech and its role in resisting the sociopolitical status quo. It provides the background to the context of Uyghurs in China and in the diaspora and to the ethnographic, multi-sited research for this book in China, the United States and Germany. Drawing from the Ethnography of Communication, the chapter highlights communicative practice as an angle to explore the nature of unruly speech, the conditions that enable and restrict it and its movement across borders. Moreover, the chapter illustrates that unruly speech, in its spoken, written, embodied and digital modes, illuminates the limit of this speech and its sociopolitical moorings. The chapter outlines the contributions of this book to the displacement and migration literature, to language and social interaction, the datafication of migration and digital surveillance, and to understanding transnational China.

2 Unruly Speech: Transgression and the Limit
chapter abstract

This chapter first introduces the main concepts of the book, including unruly speech, displacement, transgression and communicative practice. It theorizes the link between unruly speech and transgression and their potential to create alternative spaces for social interaction. Based on the extant literature, the chapter discusses unruly place-naming practices and testimonio and how those expose the sociopolitical limits of what is sayable and doable in a society. The chapter further explores place-naming and testimonio with reference to the extant literature on (forced) migration and political advocacy. Digital technologies receive specific attention as they are important for diasporas to build transnational imaginaries, archive collective memory and gather evidence to make a case for legal action. At the same time, the discussion turns towards the construction of the displaced as a datafied entity as well as the digital control of their speech and behaviors.

3 Xinjiang: Unity in Inequality
chapter abstract

The chapter illustrates the naming practice Xinjiang and its transgressive premises of unity, inequality and aspirational participation. The name is a marker of deficit in terms of linguistic marginalization and economic inequalities. At the same time, it is an aspirational call and underlined the tension between unity and diversity. Xinjiang exposed the foundations of the larger social order, including an imposed language code, self-censorship and cultural norms that the young generation challenged. Using the name Xinjiang was a way of protecting a social body under pressure and adapt it to a restrictive political context and to social change. The chapter highlights the limits of verbal language and the importance of nonverbal cues to imitate the mechanisms which suppress thought and speech. It closes with a discussion of the role of technology in policing unruly speech.

4 East Turkistan: Belonging and Human Rights
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 explores how the Uyghur diaspora in Germany and the United States mobilizes resistance through the transgressive name East Turkistan. Belonging and human rights are the main premises which back the name and aspirations for self-determination. The chapter illustrates the strengths and pitfalls of the human rights discourse supported by the U.S. government, inter- and nongovernmental organizations. It points to technology as an important medium for broadcasting human rights claims and building the digital nation. Social media and website analyses highlight the discursive strength of the human rights premise and how the Uyghur leadership has shifted from a nostalgic cultural representation of a homeland to a politicized humanism. The chapter discusses art as a creative means of defiance and links the analysis of diasporic transgressions to digital surveillance as a means to restrict their impact.

5 Testimonio
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes embodied and digital testimonios as witness accounts which expose Uyghur collective grievances and amplify their international reach. The chapter outlines the similarities and differences between embodied and digital testimonio and explains how testimonio can be analyzed through the lens of narrative analysis and attention to the affordances of technologies, including intertextuality and visibility. The detailed analysis of testimonios by Uyghurs illustrates how the premise of suffering is the driver for transgression by transforming Uyghurs into survivors. Digital technologies enable a testimonial infrastructure with connective logics, referring to the mediated visibility of the Uyghurs, inter-platform circulation of witness accounts and intertextual hashtag chains. While embodied testimonios use the language of affect, digital testimonios shift towards the language of data and verification. The chapter points to the role of activists in curating the technological parameters and templates for witness accounts and for setting the stage for legal action.

6 Conclusions
chapter abstract

Communicative practice is a productive analytical unit to explore displacement. Unruly communicative practices expose the nature of received limits and dislocate them in a quest for change. The discussed practices exemplify orders of meanings which were challenged by Uyghurs in China and by those who moved across borders. While human rights were an essential premise in the diasporic struggle, their support by governments and organizations shifted uneasily between a symbolic gesture and a strategic tool. Strategic essentialism was important for tactical self-presentation of the group but is in danger of assigning the nation a sacred position in which difference has a limited place. Digital testimonial networks heightened Uyghurs' mediated visibility while surveillance datafied the group for preemptive risk assessment. In the final part, the chapter presents scenarios of possible futures of the Uyghurs and emphasizes the power of nonviolence in the struggle for justice.