"Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts"
- FYI from the Linguist list... Literacy is apparently the focus of only one
chapter (8), but the summary does not indicate which language or if in more
than one. Nevertheless, this seems to have some relevant perspectives. DZO
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2004 12:07:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Marian Sloboda <maslo@...>
Subject: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts
EDITOR: Pavlenko, Aneta; Blackledge, Adrian
TITLE: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts
SERIES: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-456.html
Marian Sloboda, Charles University, Prague
The book under review is a collection of contributions unified by one
theoretical approach. The approach, which the editors expose in the
Introduction, is broad but coherent. It is rooted in contributors' shared
interest in interconnections between identity, languages, power, and social
justice. Contributions to the volume elaborate, in one or the other way, on the
fact that different languages, discourses and identities are not socially equal
and equally empowering. The approach chosen is applied to a number of different
multilingual settings, in which, however, English figures most often as one of
The volume contains 11 chapters plus Introduction, written by 12 experienced
scholars and younger researchers. All of them come from English-speaking
countries, but they are not always of Anglo-American origin. It is interesting
and certainly welcomed that 10 of them are woman and only two men, which is a
reverted proportion in comparison to what has been usual so far. The
contributors are specialists in bilingualism often with connection to
education/pedagogy (cf. the book's publication in the Bilingual Education and
Bilingualism series). Nevertheless, not all chapters show connection to
education, as we will see in the contents description, which follows.
In Introduction, ''New theoretical approaches to the study of negotiation of
identities in multilingual contexts,'' ANETA PAVLENKO and ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE
review briefly two approaches: sociopsychological and interactional
sociolinguistic, and continue with a more extensive exposition of
poststructuralist approaches, one of which the contributors advocate in the
present volume (drawing, e.g., on Bourdieu 1991). They view identities as
''social, discursive, and narrative options offered by a particular society in
a specific time and place to which individuals and groups appeal in an attempt
to self-name, to self- characterize, and to claim social spaces and social
prerogatives'' (p. 19). The authors add the concept of positioning, which has
been originally designed for a conversational phenomenon (Davies - Harre 1990),
but the authors extend it to all discursive practice. Bakhtinian metaphorical
concept of 'voice' (Bakhtin 1981) has been extended as well and, as one of the
contributors (Jennifer Miller) mentions, it has also acquired more literal,
though still symbolic, meaning. Its audability and one's right to speak and be
heard determine possibilities of her/his (self-)identification and identity
negotiation (p. 293). NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITIES is understood here as ''an
interplay between reflective positioning, i.e. self- representation, and
interactive positioning, whereby others attempt to position particular
individuals or groups'' (p. 20). Negotiation ''may also take place 'within'
individuals [i.e. between Bakhtinian voices], resulting in changes in
self-representation'' (p. 21). The authors distinguish three types of
identities: imposed (non-negotiable in particular time and place), assumed
(accepted but not negotiated), and negotiable (which may be contested by groups
and individuals). The contributors to this volume focus on the identities
contested by individuals and groups in resistance to others or existing
discourses. They adopt a larger sociohistorical perspective on identities.
In Chapter 1, '''The making of an American': Negotiation of identities at the
turn of the twentieth century,'' ANETA PAVLENKO shows and explains differences
between 12 memoirs of European immigrants to U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th
century and present-time immigrants. The former used rhetorical means that
succeeded in making the American identity negotiable for new arrivals to the US
and they did not foreground linguistic identities; the latter, on the contrary,
express experiences of language discrimination and difficulties with identity
negotiation, which stems from tensions between other- and self-identification.
In Chapter 2, ''Constructions of identity in political discourse in multilingual
Britain,'' ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE examines an intertextual 'chain of discourses'
(Fairclough 1995), that is, 'dialogical network' (Nekvapil - Leudar 2002) - but
he does not work with the latter concept - in which network actors (British
state officials) contribute to a change in the official language ideology. The
chain starts with news on 'race riots' in northern England, and ends in issuing
the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in 2002, which states that, inter
alia, also spouses of British citizens are obliged to prove sufficient
knowledge of English (or Welsh or Gaelic) in order to acquire British
citizenship. Drawing on Irvine and Gal (2000), Blackledge shows how language
was indexed to the nature of its speakers, understanding English indexed to
good race relations, and Britain 'reimagined' as a monolingual state.
In Chapter 3, ''Negotiating between 'bourge' and 'racaille': Verlan as a youth
identity practice in suburban Paris,'' MEREDITH DORAN deals with Verlan, a
variety widely known and spoken by French urban youth, which originated among
North-African immigrants in France. Based on participant observation in Les
Salieres (an ethnically heterogeneous town near Paris), interviews and records
of natural speech, the chapter discusses Verlan as both means and product of
construction and negotiation of identities of local youth groups.
In Chapter 4, ''Black Deaf or Deaf Black? Being black and deaf in Britain,''
MELISSA JAMES and BENCIE WOLL follow the life history lines of 21 deaf
respondents and their identity development which under their specific living
conditions (in their family, school and employment) resulted in acceptation of
the identity of Black and Deaf (''to be deaf is to have a hearing loss; to be
Deaf is to belong to a community with its own language and culture,'' p. 125).
The authors describe the respondents' identity choices based on personal
experiences of interactions with black, deaf and other people, and then dwell
on the respondents' perceptions of being Black, Deaf, Black Deaf or Deaf
In Chapter 5, ''Mothers and mother tongue: Perspectives on self-construction by
mothers of Pakistani heritage,'' JEAN MILLS presents results of her analysis of
semi-structured interviews which she carried out with 10 mothers of Pakistani
origin who live in Britain. Although the title of her contribution highlights
the category 'mother tongue,' Mills discusses this emic concept in a wider net
of linkages between the respondents' selves and meanings they have constructed
in the interviews for all their languages. The respondents put language issues
to close connection with the issues of mothering - esp. the question of being a
'good mother' in the eyes of their relatives and their own.
In Chapter 6, ''The politics of identity, representation, and the discourses of
self-identification: Negotiating the periphery and the center,'' FRANCES
GIAMPAPA first explains what the 'center' (prototype) of Canadian Italian
identity is. Then she focuses on self-positioning and identity negotiation of
three young respondents of Italian origin who diverge from the 'center' in some
way and, therefore, find themselves on the 'periphery'. The important role of
respondents' languages in situationally variable self- positioning is examined
in the workplace and peer-group settings. Interview and questionnaire data
served as the material for analysis.
In Chapter 7, ''Alice doesn't live here anymore: Foreign language learning and
identity reconstruction,'' CELESTE KINGINGER reconstructs the dramatic language
learning trajectory of a young American working-class woman. The respondent's
story, as retold by Kinginger on the basis of interview and written data, shows
the reader how a language identity, in this case the identity of French as
constructed by the respondent, evolved during her life in the United States,
stay in France, and life again in the US. The chapter also manifests the
cohesion of language learning processes with biographical, psychological, and
In Chapter 8, ''Intersections of literacy and construction of social
identities,'' BENEDICTA EGBO discusses findings of her research of two rural
communities in Nigeria. On the basis of participant observation, focus-group
discussion, and interviews with 36 female members of the communities, she
presents differences between the self-perceptions of literate vs. non-literate
respondents. She concentrates on bonds between literacy in general, being
literate woman in the researched communities in particular, gender, and power
in the community as well as home. Egbo concludes that literacy, if assisted by
other factors, empowers marginalized Nigerian women.
In Chapter 9, ''Multilingual writers and the struggle for voice in academic
discourse,'' SURESH CANAGARAJAH, having analyzed texts of six multilingual
students and experienced academicians, shows how they construct their voice
(''a manifestation of one's agency in discourse through the means of
language,'' p. 267) in coping with dominant discourses. The author describes
several strategies of relating one's self to the discourses: avoidance (of
negotiation with them), transposition (of features of one discourse to another
and vice versa), accommodation (to a dominant discourse), opposition (to a
dominant discourse), and appropriation (of a dominant discourse to one's own
agenda). Finally, the author assesses the strategies in a comparative,
In Chapter 10, ''Identity and language use: The politics of speaking ESL in
Schools,'' JENNIFER MILLER shifts the reader's attention to the social
conditions of negotiation of identities. She examines the situation of several
Chinese and Bosnian students at an Australian high school who use English as
their second language (ESL). Miller shows that the environment does not open to
them the same possibilities to speak and be heard in this language in
comparison to each other and their native-English-speaking classmates. Their
audability (as well as visibility) is a key factor in their
In Chapter 11, ''Sending mixed messages: Language minority education at a
Japanese public elementary school,'' YASUKO KANNO, following esp. Cummins
(2000), criticizes 'coercive relations of power' between the teacher and pupil,
in which the teacher imposes values on the pupil, irrespective of the
background and personality of the latter. Kanno advocates 'collaborative
relations of power,' in which the teacher respects her/his pupil. In the school
analyzed both these relations occur mixed: teachers show respect for minority
children's cultural background and L1 but they do not support it in contrast
Japanese, knowledge of which is a primary goal of instruction. As a result, the
children undergo L1 attrition and assimilation.
I would like to elaborate here on three topics, namely, negotiation, discourse,
and discursivity, and the extent, to which they are represented in this volume,
which remains excellent in spite of any criticism that may be raised against
some of its aspects.
The definition of 'negotiation of identities' in the Introduction sets up some
expectations as regards what the subsequent chapters might be about. In reading
them, the reader may arrive at the impression that some of the chapters are
rather about something else than negotiation. They are still excellent and very
interesting in themselves indeed, but might fit better elsewhere. For instance,
Egbo's chapter (Ch. 8) is a stimulating, noteworthy and important text, but I
have failed to see where is negotiation in it (except on p. 262). Blackledge's
chapter (Ch. 2), to give another example, does not foreground identity
negotiation as such. There is intertextuality operating with identities there,
but negotiation presupposes two voices 'speaking' discordantly (cf. definition
above and on p. 20) and the voices of the different texts analyzed are not in
disagreement (although there is some _within_ one text, see below). Chapter 7
by Kinginger, which differs from the other chapters in more respects, is
virtually a happy-ending story of a young working-class American woman who
dreams of learning French. The chapter is reminiscent of the work on
linguistic (auto)biographies (e.g. Franceschini 2003 and forthcoming, Nekvapil
2003), but it has not its academic focus and is rather a paraphrase of the
respondent's story with the analytic component suppressed. (Nevertheless, an
asset one can see in this chapter is that it provides valuable material for
comparison in the form of a convincing and impressive story of intertwining of
language learning with the learner's biography, personal social-life experience
and social stereotypes.) Thus, on the one hand, there is this sort of
non-prototypical analysis of identity negotiation in the present volume; on the
other hand, there are also analyses that can be considered really prototypical
in this respect. In my opinion, Giampapa's, Canagarajah's, Pavlenko's, and
James' and Woll's contributions (Ch. 6, 9, 1 and 4) represent the latter case.
Miller's chapter (Ch. 10), although it does not have its primary focus on
identity negotiation, is remarkable for that it focuses on conditions of
It seems that there is variable emphasis on various aspects of the phenomenon of
identity negotiation in the present volume. Three aspects might be discerned
here: CONSTRUCTION (emphasis on identity creation), MODIFICATION (emphasis on
identity reconstruction), and NEGOTIATION as such (emphasis on joint
creation/modification/ascription by at least two more or less discordant
voices, intertextually or intratextually). In Doran's chapter (Ch. 3), for
example, there is a switch in the place between excerpts from interview
narratives, which are presented with the emphasis on the 'construction aspect,'
and two excerpts of short conversational exchanges, in which prototypical
negotiation between two speakers takes place. Blackledge's chapter (Ch. 2) is
an analogical case but with within-one-speaker negotiation. The chapters differ
in the degree and proportion of emphasis on these aspects.
I will turn now to the issue of discourse and discursivity. Whereas Holstein
and Gubrium (2000) have tried to integrate and harmonize, at least in theory,
the institutional 'macro' discourse-in-practice with 'micro' discursive
practice of self construction, the present volume slightly 'sides with' the
grand-discourse concept, although the editors do acknowledge the importance of
the 'micro' discursivity (p. 14). The authors managed to incorporate the
conception of grand discourse to analysis when dealing with the negotiation of
identities in the lives of individuals or small communities, i.e., at the
'micro' level. Nevertheless, they do not seem to have attended to the
micro-discursive nature of identity negotiation. In my opinion, the authors do
not usually show the sense of identities and their negotiation as really
interactionally constructed, localized, occasioned, and dependent on narrative
structures _within_ the data analyzed. Many authors used interview techniques
in order to generate their data but do not show, explicitly or implicitly, the
awareness that respondents negotiated their identities also and primarily with
the researcher. It is important what questions researchers give, how they
introduce themselves, how respondents perceive them, etc. In Chapter 3, for
example, 'negotiation' does not appear as a situated action
(respondent--researcher) but as self-positioning of respondents only with
respect to majority discourse (respondent--majority discourse), and in
addition, rather as a construction of identity than true negotiation (majority
discourse is not shown to receive and respond to the respondents' claims).
Robert Miller (2000) distinguishes three approaches to life stories: neo-
positivist (viewing interviewee as affected by social structure and narratives
as mirroring objective reality in a certain way), realist (building a
data-grounded model of objective reality), and narrative (viewing reality as
structured in interplay between interviewee and interviewer). Those
contributors, who used interviews and narratives as data, approached them
usually from realist or neo-positivist positions.
There are, however, exceptions. Mills (Ch. 5) adopted more narrative approach
than some other contributors as she has ''attempted to show that issues binding
together identity and language were very prominent in _these data_ [i.e. in her
interviews with respondents]'' (p. 186, underlining added). A strong focus on
narrative aspect of the negotiation of self is present in Canagarajah's
contribution (Ch. 9). The author explicitly deals with strategies of self
negotiation _within and between_ academic writings and discourses.
Concerning the approach to identity negotiation and particularly the interactive
nature of this process, the editors explicitly state in the Introduction that
the authors do not take up the approach of interactional sociolinguistics (i.e.
Auer 1998 and the like), because it deals with negotiation of identities by way
of code- switching and language choice (p. 10). However, it is not only the
work on code-switching and language choice that is devoted to interactional
identity construction and negotiation, but also ethnomethodologically informed
work such as Antaki - Widdicombe (1998), or Hester - Housley (2002). The
editors state, however, that relying _exclusively_ on interactive analysis
cannot adequately explore all the complexity of negotiation of identities (p.
25). I would agree, but like to add that the book under review have moved very
far from interactive analysis and, as a result, might miss much of the
phenomenon. In a reader on discourse theory and practice, Wetherell (2001: 382)
identified ''six nodes of research activity which seem most relevant to social
scientist'': (1) conversation analysis, (2) discursive psychology, (3)
Foucauldian research, (4) critical discourse analysis and critical linguistics,
(5) interactional linguistics and the ethnography of speaking, and (6)
Bakhtinian research. The authors of this volume adhere mostly to critical
discourse analysis, Bakhtinian and Foucauldian research, and ethnography of
What is probably more relevant than all that has been mentioned above is the
question if the choice of approach, data and methods was effective as regards
the purpose of the authors' texts - to lay bare or address instances of social
injustice. It can be concluded that it has. The volume is undoubtedly of high
academic quality; it is informative and truly stimulating. The book is powerful
in that it has one wide but synthetic and coherent theoretical perspective,
within which all the authors managed to position their chapters. It is a
well-written up-to-date achievement of a poststructuralist, socially engaged
and critical branch of qualitative sociolinguistics with transdisciplinary
overlaps, emphasis shifted from methods to findings, and analytical interest
oriented to the links between the 'macro' and 'micro' of multilingual social
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marian Sloboda is a Ph.D. student of Linguistics at Charles University, Prague,
Czech Republic. His main study interests lie in sociolinguistics, bilingualism
research, language management, conversation analysis, and Slavic linguistics.
His dissertation will be devoted to Belarusan and Russian language management,
bilingual discourse, language ideologies and identities in Belarus.