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.

Explaining Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST)

This month we published Research Methods for Complexity Theory in Applied Linguistics by Phil Hiver and Ali H. Al-Hoorie. In this post the authors explain why their book is so important for complexity research.

What are the big questions that occupy researchers in the human and social sciences? Chances are that these questions share two key features. First, many social questions, from the minute level to the grand scale of things, are interconnected. Second, their optimal solutions are constantly changing over time. As the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said, the 21st century is likely to witness a general intellectual reorientation around a complex, interconnected, and dynamic view of the world, a view that is indeed sweeping through various human and social disciplines. And, if many of the major issues of our time are complex and systemic, they need to be approached with a corresponding shift in perception. One such approach is complexity and dynamic systems theory (CDST).

Of course, once we began to adopt a CDST understanding of language learning, development, and use in our work in applied linguistics, it seemed to us that everything straightforward was ruined. Like many others, we had happily operated on the assumption of a neatly ordered and simple world. We studied phenomena by breaking them up into smaller parts, drawing boundaries between those parts, and studying them separate from their environment and in isolation. It is no wonder that before long we ended up frustrated and puzzled as to why we were no closer to understanding and capturing reality than before. While embracing a CDST view promised to bring us closer to an approximation of this complex and dynamic reality, we quickly realized that there was very little guidance for the methods necessary to do this kind of research. Many sources of information were too abstract or conceptual, but also misleading (e.g. “qualitative data are inherently better for studying complex systems”); others were far too technical (e.g. “Lyapunov functions are scalar functions that can be used to measure asymptotic equilibrium in stochastic models”) and did not seem to lend themselves to the kinds of questions that concern us applied linguists.

Methods for doing CDST research did prove elusive at first. But with just a little more digging, we became convinced that certain existing research templates, techniques for data elicitation, and methods of analysis that have a firm complexity basis in other human and social domains did hold promise. This book is the result of that journey we took to learn about already well-established designs and methods for complexity research. Based on our search, and a healthy dose of trial and error, we set out to share a variety of methods for complexity research already in widespread use by social complexivists. In the end, this is the book that we wish we had when we set out nearly a decade ago to explore the issues and questions of interest to us in applied linguistics. We hope it will function like a road map in pointing the way forward to many others who are also interested in the interrelated and dynamic reality of the human and social world.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System edited by ZhaoHong Han.