Language Continues to Divide Us, Despite Globalisation

This month we published The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett. In this post Joel explains the book’s focus and how it came about.

Some of the world’s most enduring and pervasive social divisions are maintained through language practices and ideologies embedded in education. If we scratch beneath the surface of globalization’s connectivity and mobility, we find an underbelly of linguistic inequality, but also, more encouragingly, resistance to oppressive language practices. This is they central premise of The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education.

Our focus is on the Global South, where the promises of European modernity are exposed as underpinned by a geopolitics of imperialism that structure linguistic inequalities in sometimes surprising ways. For example, for two centuries the Portuguese crown and Jesuit missionaries relied on an Indigenous language, Língua Geral, to conquer and exploit the peoples of the Amazon, rather than Portuguese. In contemporary African schooling, a complex linguistic market sees old colonial languages displaced by new ones as markers of distinction. English, replete with ideologies of race, class and coloniality, plays a central role in the contemporary scenario. It has gradually displaced Russian as the prestige language of Mongolian higher education, revealed in online practices and lines of exclusion that mirror ancient urban-rural divides. In the Pacific Islands and Latin America, the teaching and policing of English brings practices of shaming and feelings of inadequacy in which race plays a central role. Sensitive ethnographic work by authors from each of these settings, amongst many others, brings out the complexity of boundary formation as not only delimiting, but also structuring linguistic contacts and exchanges around education.

The chapters also highlight the emergence of critical consciousness of the ideological dimensions of language and resistance to linguistic inequalities, along with the wider social divisions they shape. This is evident in feminist pedagogies in language education in Saudi Arabia, queer pedagogies in Brazilian teacher education, and plurilingual literacy pedagogies in South Africa. The book emerged from a shared commitment amongst the editors and authors to these resistant pedagogies and from an emerging research network of critical scholars, most of whom are connected through Brazil.

The initial idea emerged from discussions I had with Dánie de Jesus during a post-graduate course on Bourdieu and literacy which I taught at the Federal University of Mato Grosso. Dánie and I both work as teacher educators in Brazil, while Lesley Bartlett, an anthropologist based in the US, has long-term Brazilian connections through her work on adult literacy in Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco. In contrast to work from the global north that often sees globalization as a unifying, boundary-weakening process, our Brazilian experiences suggested the need to counter this view with perspectives from what Raewyn Connell, in Southern Theory, termed “the pointy end of globalization”.

Joel Windle

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingualism, (Im)mobilities and Spaces of Belonging edited by Kristine Horner and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain.

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