The discursive construction of Kenyan ethnicities in online political talk
Ondigi, Evans Anyona
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Multi-paradigmatically qualitative, and largely in the fashion of the critical theory, this study seeks to explore how a selection of Kenyans construct, manipulate and negotiate ethnic categories in a discussion of national politics on two Facebook sites over a period of fourteen and a half months, at the time of the 2013 national elections. Kenya has at least 42 ethnic communities, and has been described as a hotbed of ethnic polarisation. The study is interested in how the participants use language to position themselves and others in relation to ethnicity, as well as to draw on or make reference to notions of Kenyan nationalism. The data for this study is drawn from Facebook discussions on two different groups: one ‘open’ and one ‘closed’. The data also includes participants from different ethnic groups and political leanings. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Engagement and Face-work are used as theoretical frameworks to explore how participants draw on different discourses to construct their ethnicities and position themselves as Kenyan nationals. The analysis also explores how informants expand and contract the dialogic space, as well as how they perform face-work during these interactions. CDA is important since the study examines ways in which participants participate in societal struggles through discourse, as either effectively supporting, sustaining, reproducing or challenging the status quo or power imbalances, especially as members of particular ethnic groups. The theory of Engagement is also important for the study since it helps explain how participants source their value positions and align each other as they open up or close down the dialogic space in their arguments or discussions. The notion of Face-work is used as an important complement to Engagement to further explore the nature of interaction between participants. The data has been analysed in two main ways: linguistically and thematically. The linguistic analysis generally reveals that the participants in the closed group paid much more attention to face-work, and used both expansive and contractive resources of Engagement almost in equal measure, while their open group counterparts tended more towards contractive resources and paid less attention to face-work. The interactions of both groups, however, point to the existing ethno-political mobilisation and polarisation in the country. The study also teases out several extra discursive strategies which it proposes for consideration as possible add-ons to the Engagement framework. Lastly, the thematic analysis reveals new important ways through which participants conceive ethnicity, especially as constituting interethnic relations.