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Review of  Identity Formation in Globalizing Contexts

Reviewer: Damian J. Rivers
Book Title: Identity Formation in Globalizing Contexts
Book Author: Christina Higgins
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.3196

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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

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

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 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.

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.

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).