Traditionally, the language people speak has been connected with their national identity: English, Spanish, Japanese and so on.
Within any one language there are different language varieties which are also connected with particular identities. It is also recognised that children and adults from different social groups bring different kinds of language resources into the classroom and that these influence their identity as a student. Particular uses of language and literacy are highly valued in the classroom and seen as centrally important for learning, and there has been considerable argument about how far the language of children and adults from various ethnic and class communities is different or deficient in relation to competencies required in educational settings Bernstein, ; Labov, ; Michaels, ; Heath, ; Tizard and Hughes, These associations of language use and group identity class, gender, generation, ethnicity remain significant, but a number of important theoretical shifts in the ways in which social scientists conceptualise the role of language in relation to other aspects of social life have had some profound implications for issues of language and identity.
Briefly, there has been what is referred to as a shift from a structuralist approach, which conceives of identity as a relatively fixed set of attributes, to the post-structuralist notion of identity as a more fluid ongoing contested process, with people constructing and reconstructing various aspects of their identity throughout different experiences in their lives.
But we use it to incorporate the post-structuralist emphasis on identity as a process rather than any fixed set of social attributes or roles. The theoretical shift in ways of looking at identity is part of a more general acknowledgement within the social sciences of the importance of the dynamic processes of social life and the role of language within these.
For instance, there has been an increasing interest in the way in which people use language collaboratively to accomplish intellectual as well as practical tasks. In sociocultural theory, which we explored in section 1, cognitive development is seen as socially driven, and knowledge as socially constructed, through the medium of teaching and learning dialogues. As we stressed in section 1, language is both the medium and the message of education. This more social constructionist approach sees knowledge not so much as a body of facts and information but rather as the outcome of particular kinds of social interactions and processes.
It has also been applied to understanding other aspects of social life. So, for instance, social categories like class, gender or ethnicity are increasingly seen not as intrinsic labels of identity residing within the individual, but as experienced by people as a more or less salient aspect of who they are through their experience in different interactions and dialogues, across different contexts.
Alongside an increasing emphasis on the role of language in the ongoing construction of knowledge and identities, there has also been a growing recognition of the ideological nature and functions of language. The meaning of language in any specific interaction is shot through with these social and ideological associations, which are an intrinsic aspect of the immediate and the broader context.
An aspect of discourse that we will be focusing on in this section is the ideological dimension. Furthermore, individual students will be identified, through the ways in which they participate in classroom dialogues as well as through their written work , as particular kinds of students: for example, clever or stupid, good or bad.
Similarly, teachers will become defined as good or bad teachers. A final point on the concept of context. Context can be defined in terms of the resources invoked by speakers to make sense of a particular communicative exchange. These resources may include:. In section 3, we shall also include within the notion of context the ways in which these resources invoked by speakers are shaped and given meaning through:. Of course, from the social constructionist point of view, as noted in section 1, these events, beliefs and values are at least partly constituted through the discourse itself.
So, rather than seeing context as a kind of frame surrounding a communicative event, we need to think of a more dynamic relationship between the two. Particular aspects of the context are invoked by conversation participants in their construction of meaning, and language may also invoke other contexts away from the here and now, for example when people tell anecdotes or stories, or teachers ask students to remember what happened in a previous lesson.
The idea that individual and group identity is constantly being negotiated and renegotiated through the minutiae of everyday social interactions has been explored in some detail by the American sociolinguist, Penelope Eckert. Eckert studied the language use of American high school students who called themselves Jocks and Burnouts. These two subcultures were associated with sharply contrasting personal styles. Jocks participated enthusiastically in extra-curricular activities, played sports, served on the school council and hoped to graduate to college.
They took the school as their community and hence the basis of their group identity.
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In the s, when Eckert did her research, they wore smart designer jeans, the girls used candy coloured make-up and the boys had short hair. The Burnouts, in contrast, did not participate in school social activities and resisted the corporate identity of the high school and what it stood for.
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They wore bellbottom jeans, rock concert T-shirts, sweatshirts and auto-plant jackets, and expected to work in local industry when they were older. They were more likely to be out at an all-night party in the town than at the school dance. There were differences, too, in the language styles pitch, pronunciation and grammar used. Individual identity is constructed in collaboration with others in and around these communities of practice. For Bucholtz, this concept focused too centrally on language and tends to marginalise other aspects of social practice.
In arguing that traditional sociolinguistic theory marginalises certain kinds of gender issues, she also illustrated the important point that any body of theory will privilege particular beliefs and values and particular kinds of knowledge, while underplaying, or rendering invisible, others. Mainstream norms in traditional sociolinguistics have been based on male speakers; she was looking not just at a different social category, women speakers, but at a marginalised group within this.
Like Eckert, she used ethnography and argued that through focusing on language, not in isolation but as part of social practice, she could capture something of the complex relationship between broader social structures and individual agency, ideology and identity, norms and interactions.
The studies discussed thus far in section 3 have begun to build up a picture of the ways in which individual and group identity are both expressed and also constructed through dialogue. In this sense, then, identity is not fixed and unitary. Different kinds of identities may be tried out, and negotiated, in different contexts, within different discourse communities and communities of practice. There is also often a sense of struggle, as people try to create a sense of themselves against dominant forms and institutional expectations.
In this part we look at research which draws on the ideas of the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and his associates in what has been called the Bakhtin circle, who conceptualise language itself as a site of struggle. Bakhtinian ideas have made a key contribution to post-structuralist notions of discourse, and its relationship with identity. First, Bakhtin sees language as involving a constant, dynamic tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces.
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Centripetal forces produce authoritative discourses which are relatively fixed and inflexible in meaning, for example established bodies of knowledge and religious orthodoxies. These forces, however, are always interpenetrated by centrifugal forces leading to the diversification of language, and the fragmentation of cultural and political institutions. Finding a voice implies taking up a particular ideological position within the struggle between centripetal and centrifugal forces.
In school, this struggle is often played out between the centripetal forces of the school institutional authority and the official curriculum, and the centrifugal forces of personal and community experience and the day-to-day concerns of the students. Sola and Bennett , in their study of Puerto Rican students on a junior high school programme in East Harlem, found that the students struggled between the centripetal instructional school discourse with its fixed curriculum goals and knowledge, and the more interactive, contemporaneous discourse of their local community. School discourse for these students was closely associated with the dominant societal forces which were responsible for the political and economic marginalisation of their own families.
Entering into the official discourse was therefore not a neutral act. It could mean participating in the very practices which marginalised their own community and its discourse.
She did this through building community discourse styles into her classroom teaching, thus harnessing both centripetal and centrifugal forces. The second key Bakhtinian idea is the concept of heteroglossia. Bakhtin argues that when we speak we use words which are already saturated with ideological meaning, in relation to the centripetal and centrifugal forces described above. He describes the struggle for voice as follows:. Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language We shall be exploring this idea more fully in the next reading.
Bakhtin sees meanings as emerging not from an individual utterance, but, sometimes provisionally and ambiguously, through the position of the utterance within a particular chain of communication. The utterance is itself a response, explicit or implicit, to other utterances, either in the current conversation or in the past. And every utterance is always shaped in anticipation of its own possible responses in the future.
The shape and meaning of an utterance is thus dialogically orientated in two directions, towards the past and towards the future. Specific words and phrases may also invoke links with other conversations, or with particular discourses.
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There is therefore another layer of intertextual connections which contribute to the nuances of meaning in the utterance. For each word of the utterance that we are in the process of understanding, we, as it were, lay down a set of our own answering words In essence, meaning belongs to a word in its position between speakers; that is, meaning is realised only in the process of active, responsive, understanding It is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together. Intertextuality , that is, a relation invoked explicitly or implicitly between one text spoken, written, visual or multimodal and another, has long been of interest to literary theorists and researchers in the media.
Media texts such as film, television and advertisements have provided obvious rich sites for the analysis of intertextual play e. Cook, ; Meinhof and Smith, Intertextuality is now increasingly seen as an intrinsic part of meaning-making in discourse more generally. This involved children reading and writing about themselves, their families, their community and their cultural history.
The programme aimed, like the teacher reported by Sola and Bennett from their research in East Harlem, to enable students to bring their own community voices and discourse into the classroom.
The research involved classroom observation and interviews with the children, which informed the analysis of their writing. Kamberelis and Scott give two examples of writing by fourth grade students to illustrate their findings. We shall look in detail at one of these examples. What makes you identify these particular points? Kamberelis and Scott set out the writing in numbered lines to clarify their analysis. You may have felt that there were a number of places where Lisa seemed to be taking up a particular voice, with its associated value position.
We think this was happening at lines 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, either because she was reporting something she could not have known directly 7 , seems to be reporting a generalisation she has heard 8, 9 or seems to be quoting homilies 13, 14, In their analysis, Kamberelis and Scott suggest that Lisa takes on and orientates towards a number of specific voices.
Her writing therefore is a response to voices in the media portraying life for Black people in Detroit as violent, dangerous and oppressive. She also mentioned learning about Black history from her sister-in-law, books about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, her teacher and her mother. Finally, she told the researchers that Jesse Jackson had preached on TV about the importance of thanking God you are alive whatever colour you are a video of this speech had been shown to the class and that her mother had told her you should love yourself whoever you are.
These last two voices seem to be fairly directly reproduced in lines 13, 14 and In addition to her stylisation of particular voices and their associated ideologies i. In this essay they suggest that Anthony appears to move and sometimes flounder between the voices and anti-gun position of his teacher and members of his club, the voices of his grandparents and mother who support the limited use of handguns and the explicitly pro-handgun position of his older brothers and their friends.
This impasse is perhaps reflected in the way the piece ends with a question. For Kamberelis and Scott, the writing of these children was not only about the development of literacy skills and the ability to present an argument, but also contributed to their exploration and development as particular kinds of people. If you are currently teaching you may want to talk to a number of your students about a particular piece of their writing and track the various voices they may be appropriating or stylising. The teachers in the studies by Sola and Bennett and by Kamberelis and Scott endeavoured to bridge these differences, encouraging students to bring the voices of their community into the classroom.
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