Constructing membership in the in-group: Affiliation and resistance among urban Tanzanians

Christina Higgins


This article examines how a group of Tanzanian journalists co-construct their identities as members of the same culture by producing talk that aligns them with several shared membership categories (Sacks 1972, 1979, 1992). The speakers propose and subsequently reaffirm, resist, or transform the categories ‘Westernized’ and ‘ethnically marked’ in order to align or realign themselves as co-members of the same group of white collar workers. In the first excerpt, the participants critique Tanzanian youth who dress like rap singers, providing turn-by-turn slots for co-affiliation, thereby establishing an intercultural difference between themselves and their fellow Tanzanians who adopt Western ways uncritically. In this excerpt, the participants employ interculturality for affiliative positioning by drawing a boundary between themselves and those Tanzanians whom they identify as ‘outsiders’ through their talk. The disjunction between the two groups is accomplished through codeswitching, shared humor, and pronoun usage. The second excerpt demonstrates how the recently-established shared insider identity is re-analyzed by the group when one of the participants in the office is constructed as uncooperative, and his ethnicity is named as the source of his inability to work with his colleagues in a suitable manner. Thus, his status as an ‘outsider’ becomes made real through explicit categorization of him as a non-member due to the interculturality of ethnic difference. This participant resists the ethnification (Day 1998) he receives, however, and through this resistance, he succeeds in reintegrating himself into the group. This reintegration is accomplished through affiliative language structures including codeswitching, teasing, and the nomination of new shared categories by the ethnified participant. My analysis provides further documentation that interculturality is a continuously dynamic production of identities-in-practice (Antaki and Widdicombe 1998), rather than a consequence of fixed social characteristics.

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