Positioning : a linguistic ethnography of Cameroonian children in and out of South African primary school spaces
This thesis traces the trajectories of a group of young Cameroonian learners as they engage in new social and educational spaces in two South African primary schools. Designed as a Linguistic Ethnography and using data from observations, interviews and more than 50 hours of recorded interaction, it illustrates the ways in which these learners position themselves and are differentially positioned within evolving discourses of inclusion and exclusion. As a current study in a multilingual African context, it joins a growing body of literature in Europe which points to the ways in which young people’s language choices and practices are socially and politically embedded in their histories of migration and implicated in relations of power, social difference and social inequality. The study is a Linguistic Ethnography of young school learners’ language experience, which falls outside the scope of much mainstream research. It is one of very few studies to focus on migrant children in contexts of the South where multilingualism is the reality yet where language-in-education policies tend to follow monoglossic norms. The focus is on how a group of 10-16 year old Cameroonian children use their multilingual repertoires to construct and negotiate identities both inside and outside the classroom. It also investigates in more detail the acts of identity of two individuals entering the same school with different linguistic profiles, who are positioned in differentiated ways in relation to transnational and local flows and interconnections. The context is a low socio-economic suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, where Cameroonian practices of language, class, and ethnicity become entangled with local economies of meaning. The study also contributes to an emerging body of qualitative research that seeks to develop greater understanding of the relationships between language learners, their socio-cultural worlds and processes of identity construction (Cummins, 1996; Gee, 2001; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998). ; Rampton, 1995, 2006). Recent international and South African studies tend to focus on secondary school learners, showing how they are struggling to negotiate the currents of a complex society (Adebanji, 2010; Sayed, 2002; Sookrajh, Gopal & Maharaj, 2005), although there is a recent and rapidly growing body of Scandinavian research on primary school children (for example, Cekaite & Evaldsson, 2008; Madsen, 2008; Møller, 2009; Møller, Holmen & Jørgensen, 2012). In contrast, the children in this study are negotiating the transition between childhood and adolescence, faced with issues of race, linguistic competence and discrimination at a time when moving from one age group to the next should have been relatively unproblematic. They are thus entangled in different levels of transition: emotional, physical and spatial. These issues of transition and negotiation will be highlighted through the lens of positioning. The concepts of ‘position’ and ‘positioning’ (Davis & Harré, 1990) appear to have origins in marketing, where position refers to the communication strategies that allow certain products to be placed in a market among their competitors (Tirado & Gálvez, 2007, p. 20). Holloway (1984) first used the concept of positioning in the social sciences to analyse the construction of subjectivity in the area of heterosexual relationships (Tirado & Gálvez, 2007). Positioning here was explained as relational processes that constitute interaction with other individuals. The present study focuses on how ‘interactants’ position themselves vis-à-vis their words and texts, their audiences and the contexts they both "respond to and construct linguistically" (Jaffe, 2009, p.3). As they make use of lexical and grammatical tools available to them in interaction, it becomes apparent that the process of identity construction through positioning does not "reside within the individual but in intersubjective relations of sameness and difference, […] power and disempowerment" (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005, p. 607). Thus to interpret multilingual children’s positioning requires a recursive process, using a double perspective: it means looking at the day-to-day moments of interactional and other practices, and also the wider political discourses in which these practices may be embedded and historically rooted (Maguire, 2005) and which they index in different ways. These day-to-day moments of practice thus involve different “acts of identity” (Le Page & Tabouret-Keller, 1985) which can also be described as acts of stance-taking (Jaffe, 2009). A stance may index multiple selves and social identities. However, not all stances are open to everyone: those whose who have their social, cultural or linguistic capital (Bourdieu, 1991, 1997) recognized in a particular space will be able to position themselves more strongly there than those who do not. Moreover, stances are not successful unless 'taken up' by interactants (Jaffe, 2009): this uptake may take the form of interlocutors’ stances of alignment, realignment, or misalignment (C. Goodwin, 2007; Matoesian, 2005). Uptake in multilingual contexts is influenced by the prevailing "linguistic market" (Bourdieu, 1991, pp.55-67): day to-day acts of positioning take place in inequitable markets. These ‘markets’ are fertile grounds for social stratification where speech acts and the languages in which they are realized are assigned different symbolic values (Bourdieu, 1991, 1997). Mastery of the 'legitimate' language or languages is then often a pre-condition for claiming symbolic and material resources. New institutional spaces in South Africa become interesting here, because they are characterized by new formations of class, changes in gender roles and relations and other instances of macro-structural shifts. In such spaces, linguistic hierarchies and patterns of distribution of linguistic resources are rapidly changing (Kerfoot & Bello-Nonjengele, 2014). The school as a key institution in the distribution of social, cultural and linguistic capital is thus an important site for exploring the role of language and multilingualism in social and educational change. This thesis sets out to answer the following research questions: a) How do immigrant learners use their linguistic repertoires to construct, negotiate or contest identities in new school spaces? b) How do different spaces enable or constrain the new identities negotiated? c) What are the implications for language learning policy and practice? Data collection took place over two years between February 2010 and June 2013, and followed participants from grades 5 to 7 in the English medium and Afrikaans language classrooms. Participants were 10-16 year old Cameroonian children in two Cape Town schools, ten in each. The study contains nine chapters, with chapter 1 providing an overview of the background, rationale, and conceptual and methodological framework. Chapter 2 traces the shift towards the social in language studies, considering frameworks for understanding the differential values placed on linguistic resources as actors move across social spaces, both local and transnational. Here interaction is viewed as a crucial site for identity construction, generating a social stage through which reality is constructed, shared, and made meaningful. Chapter 3 reviews studies of interactional positioning amongst multilingual learners in social and educational contexts in South Africa and more globally. Chapter 4 focuses on the methodology used in the study, discussing the research design based on Linguistic Ethnography, a qualitative approach which is based on the two broad planks of ethnography and Interactional Sociolinguistics (IS) and which enables an analytical framework combining Conversation Analysis (CA), Discourse Analysis (DA) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). Together, these analytical tools enable a multifaceted illumination of the construction of identity in discourse. The various tools used in data collection are discussed in depth followed by comment on reflexivity, challenges in the field and limitations of the study. Chapter 5 delineates the researcher’s trajectory in the field. This comprises profiles of the study schools (including the schools’ socio-economic, ethnic and linguistic make-up in relation to teachers and learners), perspectives on why the schools were chosen, the differing receptions to a research presence there, and some reflections on the researcher’s identity construction. The chapter further explores different techniques of data collection within this context: field notes and thick description, interviews, and audio recordings of interactions in and out of schools. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 present and analyse findings from classroom observation and interview data, together with audio-recordings of a group of Cameroonian learners interacting with each other and with children of other nationalities in classrooms, community and home spaces. These chapters aim to illustrate how these learners used linguistic resources to position themselves and others, to build, maintain and negotiate identities, and to assert or negate identifications. Chapters 7 and 8 build on the analysis presented in chapter 6 by focusing respectively on two key emergent themes: owning participatory spaces and defying positioning in multilingual spaces. Chapter 7 centres on the interactional and other means by which a 12 year old Anglophone learner, James, navigated his way increasingly successfully through new social and educational spaces, expanding his linguistic repertoire. Chapter 8 focuses on a 12 year old Francophone learner, Aline, and the ways in which she tried to convert her linguistic capital on new linguistic markets. Her efforts were more often than not met with negative evaluation, leading to a loss of both social and academic identities. The analysis of data thus serves as a rich point of entry for understanding the connections between linguistic repertoires, relations between ethnic groups, youth culture, and the experience of social change. Through their discursive production of selves, these adolescent learners supposed to be negotiating only the normal transition from one age group to the next) are here negotiating the currents of a complex society and dealing with issues of race, language and segregation. Findings suggest that participants had multiple identity options that were negotiated through different practices, from food choices to language and interactional norms. These different identity options were however constrained by existing norms and linguistic hierarchies in each space, allowing some to accommodate new linguistic practices and ways of doing things, while others experienced more ambivalent and contradictory processes of adaptation. In informal settings there was evidence of a third space characterized by a mélange of languages in which both formal and informal versions of English and French, along with Cameroonian Pidgin English (CPE) and other Cameroonian languages, were used. However, even in these settings there was a gradual shift to English, indicating the penetration of macrosocial and institutional discourses into private spaces. The thesis concludes with a set of recommendations for caregivers, teachers and policymakers seeking to create schools more welcoming of diversity. It is hoped, then, that this study will help families and schools to realize the variety of ways in which linguistic repertoires influence school success, both social and educational, and to find ways of using these repertoires for development and learning. In this way, they might contribute to immigrant youngsters’ ability to construct strong identities as learners and valued social beings.