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Review of Identity Formation in Globalizing Contexts
EDITOR: Christina Higgins TITLE: Identity Formation in Globalizing Contexts SUBTITLE: Language Learning in the New Millennium SERIES TITLE: Language and Social Processes Vol. 1 PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton YEAR: 2011
Damian J. Rivers, Graduate School of Language and Culture, Osaka University, Japan
SUMMARY Through qualitative methodologies including narrative analysis, case studies, and ethnographic research, this 12-chapter edited volume investigates the multitude of ways that globalization in the new millennium influences language learning, transnational living, and the construction of dynamic identities. From a theoretical standpoint, the book explores how global flows of people, ideas, and technology, and interconnected global ‘scapes’ continually constructing new identity choices for language learners, and how these identity options subsequently impact upon language learning, language teaching and language use across a number of micro identity zones located within macro-level contexts such as Canada, England, France, Hong Kong, Tanzania, and the United States. As the preface indicates “across the volume, the authors explore how language learners negotiate their sense of self as they experience these new contexts and how they integrate these experiences with their previous subjectivities” (p. ix). The following summarization of each chapter will use this as a point of orientation.
Chapter 1 [The formation of L2 selves in a globalizing world] by Christina Higgins addresses an environment characterized by mobility and mobile resources as opposed to fixed categories and monolithic terms such as ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speaker. Identifying the specific strand of ‘new millennium globalization’ as being most appropriate for this task, Higgins asserts that “[r]ather than linking identity tightly with clear-cut nationalities, ethnicities, or cultures, new millennium globalization requires us to take a deeper look at how identity is formed in relation to mobility and the transgression of modernist boundaries” (p. 2). The chapter highlights some of the most significant viewpoints from which to explore this post-modernist position. Higgins draws upon various ‘scapes’ and discusses how the formation of new hybrid identities stimulated by the transcultural flow of ideas, images, people, money, and information does not necessarily erase or remove former traditional ones. These sites of multiple tensions are further explored in relation to language learner identity with particular attention given to motivation and possible L2 selves, communities of practice, and post-structuralist images of the self. The final part of the chapter is dedicated to examining the consequences of the aforementioned global flows and shifting scapes of identity formation. Higgins stimulates the appetite of the reader by explaining the volume’s intentional pull away from a dominant focus on English as the L2 of choice: “[w]hile much research on globalization in applied linguistics focuses narrowly on English, this volume’s inclusion of languages other than English seeks to demonstrate that global forces are not limited to the world’s most spoken language”, further adding that “new millennium identities are not strictly tied to English” (p. 17).
PART I: Forming identities within (trans)national ethnoscapes Chapter 2 [“I’m two pieces inside of me”: Negotiating belonging through narratives of linguistic and ethnic hybridity] by Matthew T. Prior focuses on the notion of belonging through the narratives of a male working-class Cambodian-Vietnamese border crosser (Etienne) who immigrated to Canada in the mid-1980s. In addition to the utilization of narrative as a form of inquiry, Prior highlights how narrative inquiry also represents a discursive space transcending the restrictions of space and time. Although the data within this chapter derives mostly from a corpus of 40-hours of interview data, Prior’s actual interviews with Etienne spanned an impressive period of five years thus allowing for a level of detail, engagement, and participant understanding rarely found within other projects. The data is presented and analyzed across eight thematic sections including: possibilities for participation and belonging; linguistic and ethnic unbelonging; the disempowered and empowered self; and transformation and self-realization. Each section is furnished with rich and insightful data showcasing the spectrum of human emotion and identity development, thus giving the reader opportunity to see Etienne as a multidimensional individual affected by the past and encouraged by the future. Prior draws the chapter to a close by suggesting that by “attending to the dynamic sense-making processes by which people organize and reflect upon their hybrid lives we may gain a better understanding of various trajectories of language use, social participation, and identity construction” (p. 46). In the broader context of this volume this conclusion represents excellent advice and closes out an interesting and well-written chapter.
Chapter 3 [Integration through the accueil program: Language and belonging among newcomer adolescents in Quebec] by Dawn Allen explores policies and programs aimed at the integration of school-age immigrants and minorities in Quebec which permit a closer look “at the tensions inherent in Quebec’s commitment to the embracing of diversity (inclusiveness) and the promotion of the distinct society identity (exclusiveness)” (p. 49). Allen provides a thorough account of the most significant policy issues surrounding the use of French and English within Quebec and these descriptions are helpful for those readers not overly familiar with this particular context. In considering the complexity of individual identity construction, Allen explores how “an identity-centered rather than language-centered approach to integration might address some of the challenges to integration in Quebec’s schools” (p. 53). The 18 participants in the study, five of whom are focused upon in this chapter, were tracked over a 15-month period by using ethnographic methodology including a variety of data collection techniques. It was interesting to note that the participants were given the option of using English, French and/or Spanish during interviews. The data analysis, whilst centered on the discourse of narrative identity construction also utilizes what Allen refers to as “naming practices” (p. 54) that are used in the process of categorization. The narrative data is compelling and demonstrates student resistance to ‘official naming practices’ through the use of ‘individual name claiming techniques’ as part of their self-driven identity construction. In drawing attention to the distinction between host language learner participation and acquisition, Allen concludes by stating that when acquisition rather than participation becomes the primary focus of newcomer integration “newcomers can end up feeling alienated and excluded not only from the host community but from the host language itself” (p.70).
Chapter 4 [Performing “national” practices: Identity and hybridity in immigrant youths’ communication] by Jane Zuengler is conceptually positioned amongst those post-structuralist and post-modern studies that view language as a transitive concept existing beyond “conceptual dichotomies and boundaries” (p. 73). The notion of ‘third space’ as an ethnographic performance is advocated as underpinning the two individual studies documented. The actual data, collected between 1996-2000 (pre 9/11), derives from student participation in the L2 (English) performance of two overtly national practices. The first performance is the ‘American Pledge of Allegiance’. Zuengler begins by detailing the background and controversy surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance and highlights the variability in policy across and within different parts of America. The school policy in the context where the data was collected is then described and various enactments or performances of the Pledge of Allegiance are presented, often accompanied by photographs taken within the classroom whilst the students and teacher were standing. The author notes that although the student participants “may have been participating in the Pledge…they used language and body language in hybrid ways to reshape and re-signify the nationalist discourse of the Pledge” (p. 77). The chapter also reveals how different teachers deal with the issue of the Pledge of Allegiance within the classroom and the various tensions it creates. The second performance concerns the ‘American Girl’ series of dolls and takes place at an afterschool center. Here, patriotic symbols and slogans are partnered by a group of elementary school girls with a selection of historical ‘American Girl’ character dolls that were given to them as gifts. In this context, Zuengler explores the construction of patriotic discourse surrounding the dolls and makes numerous links to the creation of third spaces concluding that “[t]he conception of Third Space makes us start where we should in our research, with the hybridity, complexity, and the conflicts of understanding immigrant youths’ behavior” (p. 95).
Chapter 5 [L1 and L2 reading practices in the lives of Latina immigrant women studying English: School literacies, home literacies, and literacies that construct identities] by Julia Menard-Warwick presents an ethnographic study concentrating on literacies across context (home and school), and literacies that construct identities with a particular focus on the L1 and L2 reading practices in the lives of Latina immigrant women studying English in California. What is notable about the participants in this study is that the six women did not desire to become part of another cultural community after immigration, rather their study efforts were intended to assist them participate more actively within their own immigrant community as bilinguals. The findings are presented firstly through a focus on participant experiences of schooling in Latin America, then through the everyday literacy challenges and requirements of the participants in the United States, and finally with reference to the literacy of identification that Menard-Warwick observes “appeared to be confined to L1 reading outside of the school context” (p. 111). Aspects of reading comprehension and dictation are given specific attention with Menard-Warwick highlighting how in both types of exercise, “the application of texts to personal experience that participants mentioned in interviews happened only rarely with L2 texts in the classroom, and did not appear to be a key goal of literacy instruction in this context” (p. 114). The discussion section reflects upon the findings and emphasizes that for many adult ESL learners attending class concerns motives such as “finding a better job, supporting their children academically, or continuing their own education” (p. 117). In short, Menard-Warwick argues that teachers should explore student perceptions of past schooling experiences including in and out of school literacy practices in order to identify suitable L2 texts for use in post-immigration communities.
PART II: Identifying with third spaces among ideoscapes Chapter 6 [Mutuality, engagement, and agency: Negotiating identity on stays abroad] by Jane Jackson uses data from a single case-study participant referred to as Elsa and begins by highlighting the popularity and appeal for university students around the globe to experience firsthand life within another cultural and linguistic environment. Attention is also drawn to the common academic belief that such experiences will contribute positively to cultural and linguistic development or intercultural sensitivity and socio-pragmatic awareness. Jackson counters that this is not always the case as “a range of internal and external factors can result in differing outcomes” (p. 127). Jackson introduces the contribution and utilization of theories deriving from Pierre Bourdieu before moving on to discuss post-structuralist notions of identity, investment and imagination in L2 learning. It is within this section that the notion of third spaces, reoccurring throughout the volume, is addressed and Jackson suggests that “[o]n stays abroad, this ‘third place’ may emerge as L2 sojourners try to make sense of intercultural encounters” (p. 130). The notions of communities of practice and situated L2 learning are then presented with reference, amongst other issues, to conceptualizations of empowerment and disempowerment through participation and degrees of inclusivity. The case-study participant (from Hong Kong) had an advanced level in English and took part in a faculty-led five-week sojourn to England. The qualitative data presented is comprehensive and gives an in depth account of Elsa’s pre-departure aims and concerns, the actual sojourn, and the post-sojourn return to Hong Kong. Jackson concludes that in order to “enhance the learning of student sojourners, adequate linguistic and (inter) cultural preparation must include attention to strategies that can help them make sense of a new environment and cope with the natural ups and downs of intercultural adjustment” (p. 145). Through the provision of such practical, yet theoretically grounded, advice this chapter serves as an excellent blueprint for anyone planning to conduct or supervise a sojourn experience into another cultural and/or linguistic environment.
Chapter 7 [National identity and language learning abroad: American students in the post 9/11 era] by Celeste Kinginger begins with two extracts taken from the journals of two American undergraduate students sojourning in France during 2003 at which time anti-American sentiment was rampant and at the forefront of French sociocultural life. The two extracts, one in which the student (Brianna) seeks status as a victim, and the other in which the student (Olivia) adopts a strong anti-French position are interpreted as example of students “recoil[ing] into national superiority -- a tactic commonly documented in the qualitative research on American students abroad” (p. 148). The rationale for the chapter is explained as concerning the need for a closer look at the process in which American students resort to affirming fixed national identities rather than engaging with “opportunities for intercultural learning and foreign language development” (p. 148). After an examination of some of the greatest sociopolitical challenges facing the issue of American students abroad, Kinginger introduces the details of the current study which is grounded in three notions drawn from sociocultural theory (i.e. human activity is mediated, higher mental functions can be understood through history, and participants are intentional human agents). The study participants were 24 French language minors or majors who travelled unsupervised to France as means of examining “the full diversity of the study abroad experience as locally instantiated” (p. 154). Data were collected through interviews and language learning journals. In analyzing narrative data in relation to national identity, the chapter draws theoretical links from the socioculturally mediated process of collective remembering as well as the use of narrative toolkits which include “specific narratives and narrative templates that differ from one culture to another but that are not readily available to consciousness” (p. 156). Kinginger concludes by suggesting that American students abroad “would be well served by efforts to encourage an analytic rather than judgmental approach to the societies where they study, and to reframe their goals in terms of intercultural and symbolic competence” (p. 166). Like the previous chapter, the practical implications of this chapter for future study abroad programs involving American students are far-reaching and should not underestimated.
Chapter 8 [“You’re a real Swahili!”: Western women’s resistance to identity slippage in Tanzania] by Christina Higgins utilizes narrative analysis to pinpoint the issue of resistance to ‘identity slippage’ in exploring the identity construction of three L2 Swahili speaking expatriate Western women who were long-term residents of Tanzania. Higgins explains how she was “interested in understanding how these women positioned themselves and other in their stories, and whether these positionings included subject positions of cultural ‘insider’ and ‘outside’, as well as other relevant subject positions of cultural hybrid, intercultural, or transnational identities” (p. 169). After a detailed description of the literature concerning expatriate identities with specific attention given to Tanzania, the three participants are profiled ahead of the data presentation and analysis. The narrative passages presented are substantial and Higgins provides a thorough analysis across a number of sub-sections addressing issues such as the desire and ability to identity slip, the limits of developing a Swahili self, narratives about cross-cultural interactional styles, power and gender as barriers in identity slippage, and shared positionalities in an intercultural third space. Higgins concludes that despite the fact that the Tanzanian context offered the three women numerous opportunities to adapt to a cross-culturally appropriate Swahili L2 self the women “did not take these opportunities up because of a number of obstacles stemming from their western-identified selves and from their high degree of intercultural awareness and worldliness” (p. 189). Several important implications for identity construction as part of intercultural adventure are outlined with particular reference to those people who do not possess a fixed concept of home.
PART III: Constructing identities in mediascapes Chapter 9 [Doing-Hip-Hop in the transformation of youth identities: Social class, habitus, and cultural capital] by Angel Lin and Evelyn Man draws upon social class and the Bourdieusian concepts of habitus and cultural capital in a project “aimed to introduce Hong Kong students to a prestigious new English speaker identity, the young emcee, by creating an alternative and extracurricular program based on hip hop” (p. 202). The justifications given for the specific focus on English Language Teaching (ELT) Rap are persuasive with the authors highlighting the importance of stress-timed rhythm in English lyrics and the fact that the majority of students spoke Cantonese (a syllable-timed language) as their L1. Links are also made to benefits that included raising phonological awareness and phonetic skills in addition to the development of self-confidence in the L2 of the 68 high-school participants. The stages surrounding the implementation of the program and the methodology employed are thoroughly described and detailed. The actual program featured a number of structured workshops in which local hip-hop artists were invited to participate as instructors. The strong emphasis on the use of hip-hop and rap as an art form is evident and the students were also exposed to a local break dance artist who served as a dance coordinator. The final student production in which 38 of the students performed was viewed by an audience of over 800 students and parents. This is indicative of the sheer scale of this creative undertaking. The data collected from the students is informative and reflects positively on the ELT Rap project, Lin and Man note that “[u]pon completion of this pilot project, 10 students of the school were invited to perform their ELT Rap songs at the English Festival 2007 kick-off ceremony (p. 217). This kind of positive knock-on effect from a project focused on English language learning and empowering identities is surely rare and makes for fascinating reading. This chapter is significant in that it stretches the boundaries of teacher-researcher imagination and invites them to consider what other creative possibilities reside within EFL environments given adequate support and a team of dedicated teacher-researchers.
Chapter 10 [When life is off da hook: Hip-hop identity and identification, BESL, and the pedagogy of pleasure] by Awad Ibrahim continues the musical theme and draws upon critical ethnographic data collected in 1996, and smaller scale follow up data in 2007. As part of the introduction, Ibrahim states that the chapter deals with how the act of English language learning “is turned into a symbolic act of identity negotiation and translation, and act which forms and simultaneously performs a subject formation project where Blackness is central” (p. 221). The chapter navigates the above through centralizing explorations of race and culture within the language learning experience underpinned by two theoretical premises. The first premise is that French-speaking immigrants and African refugees (aged 11-20) attending an urban Franco-Ontarian high-school in Canada learn more outside of the English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom than they do within it. The second premise is that the various social identities of these youths (e.g. gender, sexual, and racial) make up the core foundations of their ESL learning efforts. Ibrahim provides a thorough overview of the research context, the participants, and the data presented is analyzed sufficiently highlighting the impact of the macro on the micro. In the concluding part of the chapter the author summarizes that “Hip-Hop was identified as an influential site of identification in African students’ processes of becoming Black, which in turn affected what and how they learned” (p. 236). The final few lines of the chapter are particularly imaginative and encapsulate the principles of critical pedagogy with the urban linguistic expressions of sociocultural identity demonstrated by the participants in this chapter.
Chapter 11 [Identity theft or revealing one’s true self?: The media and construction of identity in Japanese as a foreign language] by Yumiko Ohara begins by noting the shift behind many students’ motivations for studying Japanese. During the 1980s many students were attracted to Japanese as a language of international business, but more recently, Japanese is seen as granting access to an appealing world of animation, videogames and costume play. This process has paralleled an increase in the global accessibility of Japanese culture through various forms of mainstream media. Ohara states that this chapter is an “attempt to explore the effects of media exposure on identity construction” by examining “the identity perceptions and language usage of beginning learners of Japanese as a foreign language (JFL)” (p. 239) at a Hawaiian university. Overall 61 students participated in the project and data was collected through a questionnaire, skit presentations, focus-group interviews, and informal unstructured conversations with students who frequently watched Japanese animation. The data are revealing and the multiple methods used are effective in highlighting how the participants’ identities were largely self-constructed through exposure to various forms of media. In the conclusion, Ohara makes a particularly salient point which other JFL teachers might wish to consider “[a]ny teacher who, for example, would tell a learner such a Deborah that she should not use yaaadaa [an interjection generally meaning ‘not a chance’ or ‘no way’] because it was too casual…would risk driving those students away from being interested in the class and possibly discourage them from pursuing the language” (p. 255).
Chapter 12 [Identity and interaction in internet-mediated contexts] by Steven L. Thorne and Rebecca Black analyzes revisit and extend their previous work with a focus on the “conditions and affordances that L2 participants mobilize in new media contexts” (p. 258). With reference to Salman Rushdie’s fictional character ‘Akbar the Great’, Thorne and Black consider the varied qualities of identity and how certain individuals are able to “maintain a superordinate view of the self, of an ‘I’ that seems to have transportability across languages and contexts” (p. 258). Thorne and Black survey literature addressing manifestations of identity through digital environments covering the development of new literacy practices and the identification of three dynamics which occur during internet-mediated interaction “1) indexical linkages to macro-level categories…2) functionally defined subject positions...and 3) fluid shifts in language choice, stance, and style” (p. 259). The authors share a number of varied case studies taken from a diverse range of computer-mediated contexts such as fan fictions communities, online games, and open internet discussion / forum type platforms. As part of their conclusion the authors contend that in all of the examples given in the chapter “processes of language socialization combined with implicit and explicit feedback systems appear to support the acquisition of linguistic forms, communicative strategies, and resources for performing relevant social identities” (p. 275). The final paragraph of the chapter also makes clear that this is a fast developing research field with many new innovations expanding the possibilities for dynamic interactions through computer-mediated communication. The possibilities for the study of identity within these innovations and the implications created by transcending between physical and digital realities are extensive.
The Epilogue [Hybridizing scapes and the production of new identities] by Christina Higgins closes with an inclusive discussion, rightly beginning by identifying that the current volume continues a tradition within applied linguistics of using theories developed with parallel fields to explain findings at the macro level of interpretation. However, the author also draws attention to the position that “the work presented in this volume also seeks to contribute an empirical basis to research on identity in applied linguistics as it relates to new millennium globalization” (p. 279). Further marking the volume’s contribution to applied linguistics, Higgins highlights the notions of translocal and transcultural context, and stresses that attention must be given to what it is that resides beneath and around language learning and language use which permits the development of new identities.
EVALUATION Related to the aim outlined in the preface, all the chapters clearly demonstrate “when ideoscapes, technoscapes, financescapes, ethnoscapes, and mediascapes intersect and collide, the result is that new contexts for identity formation are born” (p. 279). The coherence of the volume and the manner in which the chapters are thematically divided and structured is effective. Although all chapters were fundamentally successful some chapters were more accessible and stimulating than others. For example, as the stand out chapter, chapter 9 was immensely engaging and the project documented was impressive on a number of levels - in the size of the undertaking, the number of diverse people involved, and the rewarding outcomes for the student performers. However, the range of diversity offered in terms of context, language focus, and data presentation ensured that even in those chapters that were more challenging to connect with, the reader is still able to gather a sense of learning something new. In making such comments the subjectivity of my judgment is acknowledged which may or may not do justice to the actual quality of the data shared within this detailed edited volume.
One criticism that can be more objectively substantiated concerns the ‘freshness’ of the data. Many of the chapters were reliant upon data from previous projects or projects undertaken around or before the turn of the century despite the volume developing from a 2007 conference organized by the editor. In many ways this restricted the range of possibility in exploring language learning and identity formation in the ‘new millennium’ (of which we are now in the second decade). Despite not wanting to single out any particular chapter, this reliance on such data led to a strong sense of ‘wanting more’ and was most apparent in Chapter 4. Whilst fascinating and revealing, this chapter was largely based on pre-9/11 data. In light of the chapter’s focus on performing national practices (e.g. the American Pledge of Allegiance) and interactions with concepts such as patriotism and immigration, the inclusion of data gathered within the much changed post-9/11 world would seem vital if one were to aiming toward making an up-to-date contribution consistent with the innovative theme of the volume as advocated by the editor.
The volume should be practically useful and theoretically appealing to researchers across a variety of fields who are interested in exploring and gaining insight into the multitude of ways in which language learning and identity developments, performances, and evaluations take place. Whilst it might be easy to label this volume as only appealing to those directly interested in language learner identity this would be a gross underestimation of its significance. As such, I recommend this volume to all teacher-researchers, particularly those directly involved in language learning environments and who experience daily interactions with students. I also see the book as having considerable potential to illustrate and provide practical examples of the wide range of qualitative methodologies available to researchers in the field. In this respect, graduate students who wish to utilize qualitative methodologies in their own research would gain from reading it. In terms of the potential for future research that the book opens up, a revised version based upon the same theoretical and conceptual principles but with data collected in the post-2010 era (i.e. the second decade of the ‘new’ millennium) and across additional contexts would be an exciting companion to the current volume. I sincerely hope that the editor is already considering such a project.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Damian J. Rivers is an associate professor at Osaka University in the
English Department, Graduate School of Language and Culture and holds a PhD
in Applied Linguistics / Sociolinguistics from the University of Leicester,
England. His main research interests concern the management of multiple
identities in relation to otherness, the impact of national identities upon
a variety of foreign language education processes, critical issues in
intercultural communication, and social processes underpinning intergroup
stereotypes. He is co-editor of the forthcoming publications --
‘Native-Speakerism in Foreign Language Education: Intergroup Dynamics in
Japan’ (Multilingual Matters) and ‘Social Identities and Multiple Selves in
Foreign Language Education’ (Continuum).