My research is focused on a set of problems, all of which turn on meaning in its various guises. I am interested in the relation between public representations (or speech acts) and private representations (or mental states). I am interested in the relation between language and mind and the use-value (or function) and exchange-value (or price) of relatively immaterial commodities. I am interested in the relation between such representations of the world and what may be called residence in the world--understood as the ensemble of human practices organized around affordances, instruments, actions, roles, and identities. I am interested in the relation between human-based modes of expressing and interpreting meaning (as just described) and machine-based modes of sending and sieving information. And I am interested in attempts to facilitate communication among children who seem to be deficient in their ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, and utterances of others.
Methodologically, all of my research focuses on the relation between grammatical categories, discourse patterns, social relations, and cultural values as they unfold in face-to-face, situated interaction. It is sustained by extensive linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork among speakers of Q'eqchi'-Maya living in the cloud forests of highland Guatemala.
My scholarship is grounded in several traditions and disciplines. I am influenced by the nexus of linguistic anthropology and anthropological linguistics, on the one hand, and functional linguistics and language typology, on the other hand. My grounding in all of these traditions allows me to analyze discursive practices as much as grammatical forms, and pragmatic functions as much as semantic features. It allows me to analyze language-specific categories in light of cross-linguistic patterns, and motivated and implicated meaning as much as conventional and encoded meaning. And it allows me to focus on the reflexive and poetic aspects of language, and the relation of language to culture, itself understood in terms of broader semiotic processes. Four exemplary figures in this regard are Edward Sapir, Erving Goffman, Roman Jakobson, and Joseph Greenberg.
I am also influenced by the American Pragmatist tradition, especially the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and George Herbert Mead. While many scholars use Peirce for his semiotic (or theory of meaning) and his pragmatics (or theory of truth), I am equally influenced by his understanding of the self (in conjunction with James and Mead), his theory of logic (with its focus on hypothesis), his framing of measurement (with its attention to instrumentation), and his ideas about chance (and statistical significance more generally). Peirce's ideas are not only foundational for the linguistic and anthropological traditions in which I was trained; they are also a perfect entry into the study of science and technology to which I am increasingly drawn. My scholarship is notable for the ways in which it puts these three traditions (anthropology, linguistics, pragmatism) in conversation with certain currents in political economy, cognitive science, critical theory, and the philosophy of mind.