Mi-Cha Flubacher, Alfonso Del Percio and Alexandre Duchêne (Institute of Multilingualism, University/PH Fribourg), are inviting papers for the thematic session “The legitimate speaker in a transforming political economy” (Session ID 125) at the Sociolinguistics Symposium 19, August 22-24, 2012 in Berlin. The thematic session will include an introduction, interesting papers from your side and a concluding contribution from Susan Gal as discussant.

The legitimate speaker in a transforming political economy

Abstract: It is the aim of this thematic session to discuss the relation between political economy and the construction of the legitimate speaker in different contexts of social life (Gal 1989). For this purpose, the legitimacy and “value” attributed to languages and their speakers is brought into connection with current transformations of the political economy. We are particularly interested in how these transformations affect and produce new ideologies, through which language practices and speakers are regimented and through which the access to resources as well as to prestigious positions in society is regulated (Bourdieu 1982). In short, the main focus lies on the articulation and negotiation of the legitimacy of languages and their speakers in the globalised world of late capitalism.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, an acceleration of political, economic and social trans­forma­tions has occurred. This process is known as “late capitalism”, which is characterized by the liberalization and deregulation of national markets on the one hand, the emergence of new markets and new economic actors on the other. Modernist ideologies based on concepts such as fixity, standardization and authenticity have been challenged in this process and are now competing with post-modernist ideologies of flexibility, variability and hybridity. These new ideologies are mirrored in the emergence of new technologies and of improved mobility that facilitate the global circulation of goods, capital, information and people. In different contexts of social life, such as the work place, schools, public administration, health care and other organizational contexts, these socioeconomic transformations have an impact on how speakers and their linguistic skills and practices are valued.

Sociolinguists have paid particular attention to the impact of these transformations with regard to language ideologies and language practices. Studies have been conducted in different spaces in which language is commodified for different purposes, varying from tourism and the globalized workplace of the new economy to sports, pop culture and art. “Language” was thus found to allow speakers and economic actors to reach transnational multilingual networks (Duchêne & Heller, in press). In other research contexts, “language” was capitalized on with regard to distinctive, local and “authentic” features of linguistic practices (Heller 2010). Finally, languages of wider communication were used to perform “internationalism”.

In line with these studies, we would like to initiate a discussion in this panel on the relation between political economy and the legitimate speaker. This discussion will be empirically driven, i.e. we will discuss the empirical question of how the political economy impacts on how speakers and languages are constructed and valued. Therefore, we would like to discuss if, why and under which conditions the transformations of the political economy lead to the emergence of new language ideologies and practices that construct languages, their speakers and publics as legitimate or not. We will also use the opportunity to draw on the main theme of the conference in opening up a discussion on the dichotomy between the city and rural areas with regard to the articulation of shifting language ideologies and practices. At the same time, we will pay attention to the ideologies and practices that have not been transformed by the shifts in the political economy, but have persisted – sometimes having remained as they were, but appearing under a new form.

Our thematic session appreciates interdisciplinary approaches to language and political economy as well as various methodologies. This will open the floor for contributions that address the relationship between political economic transformations and new language ideologies regarding the legitimacy of languages and their speakers from an empirical viewpoint. We would like to encourage an international discussion reaching beyond a Eurocentric analysis of the phenomena that is conducive to a multiplicity of perspectives.

How to contribute: We are addressing the readers of Language on the Move to learn about research from various places and disciplines. You will have to submit an abstract through the Sociolinguistics Symposium’s online submission tool (ConfTool) before 31 January 2012. Please contact any of us prior to submission and for further information: mi-cha.flubacher(at)unifr.ch; alfonso.delpercio(at)unisg.ch; duchenea(at)edufr.ch.

Key References:

Bourdieu, Pierre (1982). Ce que parler veut dire: l’économie des échanges linguistiques. Paris: Fayard.

Duchêne, Alexandre/Heller, Monica (in press). Language policy in the workplace. In Bernard Spolsky (ed.). Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gal, Susan (1989). Language and political economy. Annual Review of Anthropology 18. 345-367.

Heller, Monica (2010). Language as resource in the globalized new economy. In Nik Coupland (ed.). Handbook of Language and Globalisation. Oxford: Blackwell. 350-365.

Author Mi-Cha Flubacher and Shirley Yeung

Mi-Cha Flubacher is a post doc assistant in Applied Linguistics at the Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna, Austria. In her doctorate thesis in sociolinguistics (University of Bern, Switzerland), she analyzed discourses on integration and their focus on language in Switzerland from a critical Foucauldian perspective. Post-PhD, she was a researcher at the Institute for Multilingualism, University of Fribourg, in projects on questions of multilingual practices and their consequences, particularly in the context of the workplace and in unemployment. Her research interests include ethnographic approaches to the economic commodification of language and multilingualism, to language as a site of the reproduction of social inequality, and to questions of language, gender, and race/ethnicity.

Shirley Yeung is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She has an enduring interest in looking at how language mediates processes of cross-border mobility. She has conducted collaborative research on Philippine migration and life history narratives in Toronto, Canada, and her current project ethnographically examines how policies and practices of cultural-linguistic integration are mediated on the terrain of migrant education in Geneva, Switzerland. Areas of related research interest include concepts and practices of cross-cultural communication in therapy; the ethical entailments of language; undocumented mobilities; and the semiotic construction of diversity and difference in relation to border-making, political economy, ideologies of language and culture.

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