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LINGUIST List 24.3062

Mon Jul 29 2013

Diss: Applied Linguistics: Despagne: 'An Investigation into Identity, Power and Autonomous EFL Learning ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <xiyanlinguistlist.org>

Date: 27-Jul-2013
From: Colette Despagne <colette.despagnegmail.com>
Subject: An Investigation into Identity, Power and Autonomous EFL Learning among Indigenous and Minority Students in Post-secondary Education: A Mexican case study
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Institution: The University of Western Ontario
Program: Education
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Colette I. Despagne

Dissertation Title: An Investigation into Identity, Power and Autonomous EFL Learning among Indigenous and Minority Students in Post-secondary Education: A Mexican case study

Dissertation URL: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/1354

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
Shelley K. Taylor

Dissertation Abstract:

This critical ethnographic case study draws on the English as a Foreign
Language (EFL) learning process of Indigenous and minority students in
Mexico. The study specifically focuses on students who enrolled in a
program called Una Apuesta de Futuro (UAF), or A wager with the Future,
which was designed to address scholastic asymmetries of Indigenous and poor
people in Mexico by offering them full scholarships to study at a private
university in Puebla. On the one hand, the study aims to identify and
understand contributing factors in these students’ struggles with the
process of learning English, and on the other, factors influencing these
students’ investment in EFL.

The research is framed by (critical) applied linguistics and post-colonial
theories. The dual focus of the framework is on: analyzing language
learning autonomy from a critical perspective - a perspective that favours
the integration of students’ socio historical context in their learning of
English, and questioning (unequal) power relationships between languages
and cultures by investigating the connections between power, identity and

The qualitative research design adopted for the methodology sought to
achieve trustworthiness through the following data collection techniques:
semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and the analysis of
relevant documents. The design aligned with the theoretical framework by
also aiming to decolonize the research process by using participatory
methods, such as Interpretative Focus Groups, that allow participants to
coanalyze the data and produce glocalized knowledge.

On a macro level, findings show that UAF students’ relationship with
English is rooted in Mexico’s colonial legacies. These legacies impose
unequal cultural and linguistic power relationships on languages and
cultures, relationships that are expressed through discrimination in the
EFL classroom where English is used to show superiority. Students’
perceptions of this discrimination have an impact on their subjectivities;
specifically, they feel afraid and inferior in the EFL classroom. On a
micro level, the programming adopted in the university’s Language
Department does not promote the recognition of UAF students’ local
knowledges and languages; it has adopted a ‘monolithic’ approach to
teaching English that does not draw on diverse students’ multi-competences
in other languages. Nonetheless, some Indigenous students manage to invest
in EFL by: (1) creating imagined communities that reposition them on a
national level and in the EFL class; and (2) appropriating English through
the creation of autonomous pluralistic language learning strategies.

Finally, the conclusion draws on the importance of focusing on UAF
students’ heterogeneity, and recognizing their local cultures (and
languages). This enables them to draw on their learning, and has the
potential for them to develop the agency needed to meet academic success
and, possibly, engage in social action.

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