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Constructing identities in multilingual classrooms: the experiences of immigrant-background children in primary schools in France and England

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This seminar will explore the impact of national educational ideologies on the experiences and identities of immigrant-background children in primary schools in France and England. It will draw on data from a cross-national ethnographic study, which investigated the identity narratives of 10 and 11 year old immigrant-background children in primary schools in France and England.

Building on the dialectic of ideology and utopia in the work of Paul Ricoeur (1986), in this talk I will argue that despite strongly contrasting models of integration and conceptualisations of difference, immigrant-background children in both countries viewed formal school spaces as strongly monolingual and monocultural. However, children’s perceptions diverged between the French and English schools when it came to peer group relations and informal schools spaces. In the French case, children operated a reversal of norms in which differences and Otherness were constructed as central to belonging in peer-group relations. In contrast, in the English case, children articulated differences and Otherness as the basis for separation between peers, reproducing the more implicit monocultural ideology of the school. These different representations of Otherness in school contributed to the way immigrant-background children articulated differences as part of their identities in school. These findings show that beyond national ideologies and philosophies of integration, structural, cultural and symbolic dimensions need to be explored to understand the role played by public institutions, such as schools, in the integration of immigrant populations.

Bio

Dr Oakleigh Welply is a lecturer in Sociology of Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She completed her PhD at the same institution, focusing on the experiences of immigrant-background children in primary schools in France and England. This work, which integrated a focus on language into a sociological approach, explored the role of different national frameworks in immigrant-background children’s identity construction and the way they negotiated difference and Otherness in school.

She is currently involved in a three-year research project which investigates school approaches and practices in supporting the education of non-English speaking children and young people in the UK.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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