A Glimpse Into The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education

This month we published The Complexity of Identity and Interaction in Language Education edited by Nathanael Rudolph, Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan. In this post Nathanael introduces the main themes of his book.

This book is premised on the idea that the dynamic negotiation of identity and community membership is a negotiation of positionality: of who individuals, and others around them, “are/are not,” and “can” and/or “should” be or become. Language education is inseparable from these negotiations, shaping and shaped by contextualized, sociohistorical notions of “truth,” “correctness,” “normativity,” “value,” and “change.” In other words, language education can impose, perpetuate, problematize, challenge, and reify dominant, essentialized, and idealized ways of being and belonging, which create, limit, and eliminate space for diversity.

Critical dialogue in language education (purportedly) seeks to account for the complexity of negotiated identity and interaction characterizing communities and classrooms therein, as well as to address manifested privilege-marginalization that stakeholders encounter in their negotiations of being and belonging. There is no doubt, however, that “criticality” is far from uniform, as it is also a site of ideological struggle over how diversity, (in)equity and inclusivity are imagined and attended to. There are competing conceptualizations of privilege-marginalization, for example: what they are, who experiences them and how, where, and why, and how inequity might be addressed. This is important to understand, as these differences affect the meaning scholars pour into (and how they interpret) terms and concepts relating to interaction, such as “translanguaging”: what it “is,” why and how it might be valued, and who can, should and does engage in it.

We have noticed that critical scholarship pertaining to language education generally concerns itself with problematizing essentialized and idealized nativeness in a particular language (e.g. English), and that such work generally explicitly and implicitly presumes that identity, experience, knowledge, and skills can and should be apprehended categorically (e.g. “native”/“non-native”; “local non-native”/ “non-local [other]”). The majority of such work is detached from broader communal negotiations of identity and interaction, and the transdisciplinary scholarship and social movements which have documented such negotiations, however, leaving a) the contextualized, sociohistorical, local-global origin and nature of such idealized nativeness partially or wholly unaccounted for and unaddressed, and b) the voices of individuals whose identities and experiences transcend such categories, marginalized or silenced.

In our call for proposals and throughout the editing process, we encouraged contributors to envision a criticality that is, “academically transdisciplinary, decentralized, sociohistorically contextualized and connected to the community in which it is situated, and for one that prompts individuals toward self-reflexive attention to positionality; to what frames our seeing (Lather, 1993)” (Rudolph, 2019a: 105). We couldn’t have been happier with, or more inspired by, what resulted.

In Chapter 1, for example, Syed Abdul Manan, Maya Khemlani David, Liaquat Ali Channa, and Francisco Perlas Dumanig, examine English-only language policies and practices in Pakistan, which neglect the pluri- and translingual complexity of society and marginalize the identities of teachers and students. Meike Wernicke (Chapter 2) explores how ‘nonfrancophone’ teachers of French in Canada negotiate personal-professional identity when wrestling with essentialized and idealized notions of nativeness in their workplaces. In Chapter 7, Naashia Mohamed shares a Maldivian teacher’s lived experiences negotiating positionality in the Maldives, during her transition from English teacher to a university instructor of Dhivehi, the national language. Naashia discusses how her participant, Hawwa, initially feels relegated to a second-class occupation, experiences a shift in how she views the role and value of Dhivehi and herself as a professional. April Salerno and Elena Andrei (Chapter 8) present a dialoguing framework for teachers and language teacher educators to explore their language identities and how those identities shape their language-teaching practices, with a focus on their experiences as self-described bilingual (Romanian and English) teacher educators. In Chapter 13, Sarah Hopkyns explores Emirati university students’ lived experiences negotiating positionality as speakers of Arabic and English within their families, schools, and in Emirati society at large.

We hope readers are inspired by the volume! For those interested in exploring the themes more, please feel free to contact Nathanael Rudolph at nrudolph@kindai.ac.jp.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie.

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