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Dr. Taha is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist whose work examines how everyday speech and interaction construct, and are constructed by, people's political and moral positioning. In her research and teaching, she explores how language symbolically and iteratively creates the social realities that speakers often hold to be self-evident. To this end, she engages students in seeing language as a multi-functional tool for constructing and protecting identities, not merely a channel for sending messages.
Dr. Taha works at the intersection of linguistic anthropology, semiotics, practice theory, and the emerging interdisciplinary field of discourse studies to answer the question: How are the ideals of democratic inclusion made real within rapidly changing multicultural contexts? Using ethnographic methods across a variety of field sites, she works to connect meaningful everyday interaction with influential patterns in public and institutional discourse.
Her ongoing research in southeast Spain examines interactions in high school classrooms to learn how values related to multiculturalism, diversity, and universal human rights are articulated among people who may orient to these values differently. She is especially interested in understanding how discussions of equality and freedom act as foils for excluding Moroccan Muslim youth. The contradiction between recognizing universal equality and drawing boundaries around who can legitimately belong is as old as democracy itself. Dr. Taha uses her research in Spain to explore how that contradiction persists at the local level by positioning speakers as representatives or more, or less, "progressive" cultures.
Dr. Taha's applied research in the southwest U.S., meanwhile, has revealed how participants, volunteers, and staff at a refugee arts program became agents for community inclusion in a political context that encouraged discrimination against newcomers. And her field work with young Muslim American women indicates a generational divide in terms of how first- and second-generation immigrants use language to perform their place in the U.S.
A selection of Dr. Taha's publications on these and other topics may be viewed here: https://montclair.academia.edu/MaisaTaha
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