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Esperanto Revolutionaries and Geeks

Language Politics, Digital Media and the Making of an International Community

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  • © 2021


  • Constitutes the first book-length ethnography of Esperanto speakers and their cross-border sense of community
  • Challenges ideas about how loosely-established and geographically dispersed communities gain momentum and endure
  • Argues that the internet has brought about changes in language ideologies, learning and use

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About this book

This book explores how Esperanto – often regarded as a future-oriented utopian project that ended up confined to the past – persists in the present. Constructed in the late nineteenth century to promote global linguistic understanding, this language was historically linked to anarchism, communism and pacifism. Yet, what political relevance does Esperanto retain in the present? What impacts have emerging communication technologies had on the dynamics of this speech community? Unpacking how Esperanto speakers are everywhere, but concentrated nowhere, the author argues that digital media have provided tools for people to (re)politicise acts of communication, produce horizontal learning spaces and, ultimately, build an international community. As Esperanto speakers question the post-political consensus about communication rights, this language becomes an ally of activism for open-source software and global social justice. This book will be of relevance to students and scholars researchingpolitical activism, language use and community-building, as well as anyone with an interest in digital media more broadly.

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Table of contents (9 chapters)


“My curiosity turned to pleasure as I read on, since Fians’ writing is both ethnographically rich … and theoretically sound … . Thorough and easy to read, with material from real speakers and situations, Fians’ book would make an excellent text for courses dealing with sociolinguistics and multilingualism – and, of course, for those focused on constructed languages. It could also serve as a model for those conducting research in constructed-language settings and, more generally, for those working with international and dispersed communities.” (Christine Schreyer, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, July 31, 2022) “Esperanto Revolutionaries and Geeks is a highly-readable ethnography of alternative imaginings of time and space among Esperantists. It identifies liberal and radical forms of resistance to the constraints of institutionalised national standard languages – and so to hierarchical nation-states themselves. The point of Esperanto is not utopian perfection, but rather a democratic participation in a commons.”

Monica Heller, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada and former President of the American Anthropological Association, USA.

“Guilherme Fians’ incisive book stands out for its sharp ethnographic focus on political practices among Esperanto speakers in Paris. With insight and flair, Fians probes the central paradox of Esperanto: how what appears to be Esperanto’s greatest vulnerability – its ephemerality – is, for many of its speakers, its greatest allure.”

Esther Schor, Professor of English at Princeton University, USA and author of Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language. 

“This account shows how some of those very disabling factors that might have completely undermined the feasibility of an Esperanto-speaking community actually end up driving episodic subcommunity-building practices in enclaves which look mutually isolated but, counterintuitively, connect the dots. The Polish Student Esperanto Committee’s 1980 declaration stressed the need for ‘the individual [to] be a subject, not an object, in the [Esperanto] movement;’ Guilherme Fians magisterially spells out just how such dreams have come true.”

Probal Dasgupta, Professor of Linguistics at the Indian Statistical Institute Kolkata, India and Honorary Member of the Linguistic Society of America, USA.

Guilherme Fians offers a path-breaking contribution to the ethnography of the Esperanto movement, focusing on who speaks the language, why they do so, and how this movement for an international language is changing as patterns of communication and political agendas change. In the process he reveals a social movement that is both widespread and insufficiently studied. An important addition to the literature.

Humphrey Tonkin, Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at Hartford University, USA

“In this insightful ethnography of Esperanto speakers, Guilherme Fians accomplishes the rare achievement of making important contributions to the study of topics as varied as language ideologies, cosmopolitanism, mediation and temporality. Moreover, by learning from a community defined by its dispersion and non-nativeness, the author masterfully leads the reader to reflect about the value of ephemerality in the contemporary world.”

João Felipe Gonçalves, Professor of Anthropology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil

"Vividly engaging and theoretically sophisticated, this book stands out as the first substantial and extended anthropological account of the sociallife of Esperanto. Fians gives a vibrant portrayal of the complex and partially connected intergenerational collective who keep this constructed language and its broader social project alive. A must-read for anyone interested in language politics and contemporary social movements.”

Matei Candea, Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, UK and author of Corsican Fragments: Difference, Knowledge and Fieldwork.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Anthropology, University of Brasília, Brasília, Brazil

    Guilherme Fians

About the author

Guilherme Fians is Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Brasília, Brazil and Co-Director of the Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, Netherlands/USA.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Esperanto Revolutionaries and Geeks

  • Book Subtitle: Language Politics, Digital Media and the Making of an International Community

  • Authors: Guilherme Fians

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-84229-1Published: 05 January 2022

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-84232-1Published: 06 January 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-84230-7Published: 04 January 2022

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXIV, 267

  • Number of Illustrations: 1 b/w illustrations, 7 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Language Policy and Planning, Linguistic Anthropology, Intercultural Communication, Anthropology, European History, Cultural Studies

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