Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship

Earlier this month we published Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship edited by Vaidehi Ramanathan. Here Vaidehi tells us a bit more about the book and how she came to write it.

Language Policies and (Dis)CitizenshipThe primary impetus for this edited volume is my growing dissatisfaction with the ways in which the term ‘citizenship’ is being conceptualized and used both by the media and by scholars in the discipline. It seems to me that much discussion ends up in debates about ‘border controls,’ ‘citizenship tests,’ and ‘tighter immigration checks.’ Visas, passports, and securing territories undergird these arguments, and while these are important, missing from the deliberations is the idea that perhaps concerns around refugee resettlements or (illegal) immigration cannot be the object of purely juridical treatment (at legislative or regulatory levels). Perhaps we need to shift our foci to where we begin openly engaging with what is at stake in the articulations and tensions around terms such as ‘citizens’ and ‘citizenship,’ issues that can emerge only through grounded explorations. Certainly, the various essays in this volume prompt us into doing exactly this. Focusing on the backstory behind ‘citizenship’ allows us to zoom in on what citizenship permits, namely access to fuller participation. It also allows us to address (dis)citizenship and local contexts where fuller participation does not happen. This term—(dis)citizenship—is one used by Pothier and Devlin (2006) in their work on disability rights and policies, and while I have drawn on it in my research on disabilities, I find that it fits well in my current thinking about language policies and citizenship. It permits one to ask: What contexts of (dis)citizenship are we blind to? What roles do language policies and pedagogies play?

Because the focus of the volume is on ‘(dis)citizening,’ I wanted it comprised of authors who have known what it is like to not be able to participate fully. Toward this end it seemed fitting to have the contributors be primarily women (there is one male co-author) since women the world over have a historicized understanding of what it is like to not have access to full participation. Furthermore, I was trying to bring several different research domains together to address (dis)citizenship, including scholarship on pedagogies and language policies, and I found as I was making my list of possible contributors that female applied linguists have done some of the best work. (I was surprised to find that we don’t have more volumes made up only of women authors!)

Regarding each of the essays: ‘(Dis)citizening,’ flows thickly as a subtext through each piece. Every essay articulates nuanced language-related political and historical concerns. Each one, in a very different way, addresses larger political questions around modernizing, late modernity, or postcolonial concerns. The authors situate their scholarship in diverse parts of our planet (Zimbabwe, Australia, the UK, and the US, among others) and offer situated accounts about very local contexts (courtrooms, refugee centers, classrooms, teacher-education contexts, heritage centers) that point to the inter-relationality between languages, policies, pedagogies and citizenship. The volume consists of two sections, with the first one addressing issues of challenging and transforming discourses about citizenship (with chapters by Makoni, Matsuda and Chatwara, Feuerherm, Menard-Warwick, Punti and King and McCarty) and the second addressing issues of education, learning and citizenship (with essays by Sagoo, Widin and Yasukawa, Loring, Menken and Henze and Coelho).

This volume is intended to make us see that democracies historically built up through structural inequalities are not abstract categories but ones built up through particular historical processes encased in regimes of power (whether that is power associated with countries, institutions, languages, or pedagogic practices). Citizenship, as we argue, has as much to do with enacting civic citizenship and being active citizens so as to create contexts of fuller participation, as it does with legalities around visas and passports.

For more information on this book please see our website.

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