Navajo Voices: Country Music and the Politics of Language and Belonging

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Jacobsen, Kristina Michelle


Starn, Orin
Meintjes, Louise

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This dissertation investigates identity, citizenship, and belonging on the Navajo (Diné) Nation in Arizona and New Mexico through an ethnographic study of Navajo country western bands and the politics of Navajo language use. As the second largest tribe in the United States, the Navajo have often been portrayed by scholars as a singular and somewhat monolithic entity. But my dissertation tracks the ways that Navajos distinguish themselves from one another by dint of geographic location, physical appearance, linguistic abilities, degree of Navajo or Indian blood, class affiliations and musical taste. These distinctions are made over and above citizenship requirements for enrollment in the Navajo Nation. Thus, I focus on how a Navajo politics of sameness and difference indexes larger ideas and perceptions of "social authenticity" linked to the ability to speak, look and act "Navajo." Based on 28 months of fieldwork, the dissertations draws on three types of qualitative data: 1) interviews with Navajo country music performers and Navajo language activists 2) participant observation that included playing with three Navajo country bands and living on the reservation 3) discourse analysis of musical performances, band rehearsals, Navajo newspaper articles and other media The resulting study joins linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of music (ethnomusicology) and American Indian Studies to show how "being Navajo" is contested and debated, and, more broadly, to interrogate the complex ways that indigenous identities are negotiated across multiple, often-contradictory and crisscrossing axes.





Jacobsen, Kristina Michelle (2012). Navajo Voices: Country Music and the Politics of Language and Belonging. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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