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Class in multilingualism research

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In recent years, many researchers interested in multilingualism have adopted identity as a central construct in their work, thus following a general trend in the social sciences. And as has been the case in the social sciences in general, multilingualism researchers have tended to adopt a cultural-based view of identity. This view is consistent with goings-on in the economically advanced nation-states of the world (and particularly in the Anglophone world), where there has been a growing interest in what is commonly known as ‘identity politics’, although another and perhaps more appropriate term used by Nancy Fraser (2003) and others is ‘recognition’. The self-conscious approach to identity has revolved around particular inscriptions, with a bias in favour of nationality, gender, race, ethnicity, and increasingly, religion and sexuality. What has been left to the side is an interest in the identities linked to the material bases of human existence and economic stratification in 21st century societies, in particular class-based subject positions, which would be consistent with what Fraser and others would call ‘redistribution’. In this paper, I argue that class needs to be brought centre stage into multilingualism research. I begin with a short discussion of what class means and how the construct has evolved over the past 150 years. I then survey research in multilingualism where class has been mentioned only in passing, or where it seems to be lurking in the shadows without taking centre stage. I end with some suggestions regarding how class might be inserted into discussions of identity and multilingualism.

David Block is ICREA Research Professor in Sociolinguistics in the Departament d’Anglès i Lingüística, Universitat de Lleida. Prior to this appointment, he spent 16 years at the Institute of Education, University of London, where he was Professor of Languages in Education. He has published articles, chapters and books on a variety of topics in applied linguistics, such as second language identities, English as an international language, second language acquisition, language teacher education, language learner beliefs, bi/multilingualism and second language research. At present, he is incorporating into his work the classical sociology of Marx, Weber, Durkheim and others, as well as contemporary thinking in political economy, as he develops conceptual frameworks for understanding globalization, internationalisation, multiculturalism, bi/multilingualism and identity. In his most recent work he has focussed on neoliberalism as the dominant ideology in contemporary societies, socioeconomic stratification in 21st century societies and class as a key dimension of identity.

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

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