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Review of  Negotiation of Identitites in Multilingual Contexts

Reviewer: Marian Sloboda
Book Title: Negotiation of Identitites in Multilingual Contexts
Book Author: Aneta Pavlenko Adrian Blackledge
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.1720

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Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2004 16:13:01 +0200
From: Marian Sloboda
Subject: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts

EDITOR: Pavlenko, Aneta; Blackledge, Adrian
TITLE: Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts
SERIES: Bilingual Education & Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004

Marian Sloboda, Charles University, Prague


The book under review is a collection of contributions
unified by one theoretical approach. The approach, which
the editors expose in the Introduction, is broad but
coherent. It is rooted in contributors' shared interest in
interconnections between identity, languages, power, and
social justice. Contributions to the volume elaborate, in
one or the other way, on the fact that different languages,
discourses and identities are not socially equal and
equally empowering. The approach chosen is applied to a
number of different multilingual settings, in which,
however, English figures most often as one of the

The volume contains 11 chapters plus Introduction, written
by 12 experienced scholars and younger researchers. All of
them come from English-speaking countries, but they are not
always of Anglo-American origin. It is interesting and
certainly welcomed that 10 of them are woman and only two
men, which is a reverted proportion in comparison to what
has been usual so far. The contributors are specialists in
bilingualism often with connection to education/pedagogy
(cf. the book's publication in the Bilingual Education and
Bilingualism series). Nevertheless, not all chapters show
connection to education, as we will see in the contents
description, which follows.


In Introduction, ''New theoretical approaches to the study
of negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts,''
approaches: sociopsychological and interactional
sociolinguistic, and continue with a more extensive
exposition of poststructuralist approaches, one of which
the contributors advocate in the present volume (drawing,
e.g., on Bourdieu 1991). They view identities as ''social,
discursive, and narrative options offered by a particular
society in a specific time and place to which individuals
and groups appeal in an attempt to self-name, to self-
characterize, and to claim social spaces and social
prerogatives'' (p. 19). The authors add the concept of
positioning, which has been originally designed for a
conversational phenomenon (Davies - Harre 1990), but the
authors extend it to all discursive practice. Bakhtinian
metaphorical concept of 'voice' (Bakhtin 1981) has been
extended as well and, as one of the contributors (Jennifer
Miller) mentions, it has also acquired more literal, though
still symbolic, meaning. Its audability and one's right to
speak and be heard determine possibilities of her/his
(self-)identification and identity negotiation (p. 293).
NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITIES is understood here as ''an
interplay between reflective positioning, i.e. self-
representation, and interactive positioning, whereby others
attempt to position particular individuals or groups'' (p.
20). Negotiation ''may also take place 'within' individuals
[i.e. between Bakhtinian voices], resulting in changes in
self-representation'' (p. 21). The authors distinguish three
types of identities: imposed (non-negotiable in particular
time and place), assumed (accepted but not negotiated), and
negotiable (which may be contested by groups and
individuals). The contributors to this volume focus on the
identities contested by individuals and groups in
resistance to others or existing discourses. They adopt a
larger sociohistorical perspective on identities.

In Chapter 1, '''The making of an American': Negotiation of
identities at the turn of the twentieth century,'' ANETA
PAVLENKO shows and explains differences between 12 memoirs
of European immigrants to U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th
century and present-time immigrants. The former used
rhetorical means that succeeded in making the American
identity negotiable for new arrivals to the US and they did
not foreground linguistic identities; the latter, on the
contrary, express experiences of language discrimination
and difficulties with identity negotiation, which stems
from tensions between other- and self-identification.

In Chapter 2, ''Constructions of identity in political
discourse in multilingual Britain,'' ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE
examines an intertextual 'chain of discourses' (Fairclough
1995), that is, 'dialogical network' (Nekvapil - Leudar
2002) - but he does not work with the latter concept - in
which network actors (British state officials) contribute
to a change in the official language ideology. The chain
starts with news on 'race riots' in northern England, and
ends in issuing the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act
in 2002, which states that, inter alia, also spouses of
British citizens are obliged to prove sufficient knowledge
of English (or Welsh or Gaelic) in order to acquire British
citizenship. Drawing on Irvine and Gal (2000), Blackledge
shows how language was indexed to the nature of its
speakers, understanding English indexed to good race
relations, and Britain 'reimagined' as a monolingual state.

In Chapter 3, ''Negotiating between 'bourge' and 'racaille':
Verlan as a youth identity practice in suburban Paris,''
MEREDITH DORAN deals with Verlan, a variety widely known
and spoken by French urban youth, which originated among
North-African immigrants in France. Based on participant
observation in Les Salieres (an ethnically heterogeneous
town near Paris), interviews and records of natural speech,
the chapter discusses Verlan as both means and product of
construction and negotiation of identities of local youth

In Chapter 4, ''Black Deaf or Deaf Black? Being black and
deaf in Britain,'' MELISSA JAMES and BENCIE WOLL follow the
life history lines of 21 deaf respondents and their
identity development which under their specific living
conditions (in their family, school and employment)
resulted in acceptation of the identity of Black and Deaf
(''to be deaf is to have a hearing loss; to be Deaf is to
belong to a community with its own language and culture,''
p. 125). The authors describe the respondents' identity
choices based on personal experiences of interactions with
black, deaf and other people, and then dwell on the
respondents' perceptions of being Black, Deaf, Black Deaf
or Deaf Black.

In Chapter 5, ''Mothers and mother tongue: Perspectives on
self-construction by mothers of Pakistani heritage,'' JEAN
MILLS presents results of her analysis of semi-structured
interviews which she carried out with 10 mothers of
Pakistani origin who live in Britain. Although the title of
her contribution highlights the category 'mother tongue,'
Mills discusses this emic concept in a wider net of
linkages between the respondents' selves and meanings they
have constructed in the interviews for all their languages.
The respondents put language issues to close connection
with the issues of mothering - esp. the question of being a
'good mother' in the eyes of their relatives and their own.

In Chapter 6, ''The politics of identity, representation,
and the discourses of self-identification: Negotiating the
periphery and the center,'' FRANCES GIAMPAPA first explains
what the 'center' (prototype) of Canadian Italian identity
is. Then she focuses on self-positioning and identity
negotiation of three young respondents of Italian origin
who diverge from the 'center' in some way and, therefore,
find themselves on the 'periphery'. The important role of
respondents' languages in situationally variable self-
positioning is examined in the workplace and peer-group
settings. Interview and questionnaire data served as the
material for analysis.

In Chapter 7, ''Alice doesn't live here anymore: Foreign
language learning and identity reconstruction,'' CELESTE
KINGINGER reconstructs the dramatic language learning
trajectory of a young American working-class woman. The
respondent's story, as retold by Kinginger on the basis of
interview and written data, shows the reader how a language
identity, in this case the identity of French as
constructed by the respondent, evolved during her life in
the United States, stay in France, and life again in the
US. The chapter also manifests the cohesion of language
learning processes with biographical, psychological, and
social facts.

In Chapter 8, ''Intersections of literacy and construction
of social identities,'' BENEDICTA EGBO discusses findings of
her research of two rural communities in Nigeria. On the
basis of participant observation, focus-group discussion,
and interviews with 36 female members of the communities,
she presents differences between the self-perceptions of
literate vs. non-literate respondents. She concentrates on
bonds between literacy in general, being literate woman in
the researched communities in particular, gender, and power
in the community as well as home. Egbo concludes that
literacy, if assisted by other factors, empowers
marginalized Nigerian women.

In Chapter 9, ''Multilingual writers and the struggle for
voice in academic discourse,'' SURESH CANAGARAJAH, having
analyzed texts of six multilingual students and experienced
academicians, shows how they construct their voice (''a
manifestation of one's agency in discourse through the
means of language,'' p. 267) in coping with dominant
discourses. The author describes several strategies of
relating one's self to the discourses: avoidance (of
negotiation with them), transposition (of features of one
discourse to another and vice versa), accommodation (to a
dominant discourse), opposition (to a dominant discourse),
and appropriation (of a dominant discourse to one's own
agenda). Finally, the author assesses the strategies in a
comparative, relational way.

In Chapter 10, ''Identity and language use: The politics of
speaking ESL in Schools,'' JENNIFER MILLER shifts the
reader's attention to the social conditions of negotiation
of identities. She examines the situation of several
Chinese and Bosnian students at an Australian high school
who use English as their second language (ESL). Miller
shows that the environment does not open to them the same
possibilities to speak and be heard in this language in
comparison to each other and their native-English-speaking
classmates. Their audability (as well as visibility) is a
key factor in their (self-)positioning.

In Chapter 11, ''Sending mixed messages: Language minority
education at a Japanese public elementary school,'' YASUKO
KANNO, following esp. Cummins (2000), criticizes 'coercive
relations of power' between the teacher and pupil, in which
the teacher imposes values on the pupil, irrespective of
the background and personality of the latter. Kanno
advocates 'collaborative relations of power,' in which the
teacher respects her/his pupil. In the school analyzed both
these relations occur mixed: teachers show respect for
minority children's cultural background and L1 but they do
not support it in contrast to Japanese, knowledge of which
is a primary goal of instruction. As a result, the children
undergo L1 attrition and assimilation.


I would like to elaborate here on three topics, namely,
negotiation, discourse, and discursivity, and the extent,
to which they are represented in this volume, which remains
excellent in spite of any criticism that may be raised
against some of its aspects.

The definition of 'negotiation of identities' in the
Introduction sets up some expectations as regards what the
subsequent chapters might be about. In reading them, the
reader may arrive at the impression that some of the
chapters are rather about something else than negotiation.
They are still excellent and very interesting in themselves
indeed, but might fit better elsewhere. For instance,
Egbo's chapter (Ch. 8) is a stimulating, noteworthy and
important text, but I have failed to see where is
negotiation in it (except on p. 262). Blackledge's chapter
(Ch. 2), to give another example, does not foreground
identity negotiation as such. There is intertextuality
operating with identities there, but negotiation
presupposes two voices 'speaking' discordantly (cf.
definition above and on p. 20) and the voices of the
different texts analyzed are not in disagreement (although
there is some _within_ one text, see below). Chapter 7 by
Kinginger, which differs from the other chapters in more
respects, is virtually a happy-ending story of a young
working-class American woman who dreams of learning French.
The chapter is reminiscent of the work on linguistic
(auto)biographies (e.g. Franceschini 2003 and forthcoming,
Nekvapil 2003), but it has not its academic focus and is
rather a paraphrase of the respondent's story with the
analytic component suppressed. (Nevertheless, an asset one
can see in this chapter is that it provides valuable
material for comparison in the form of a convincing and
impressive story of intertwining of language learning with
the learner's biography, personal social-life experience
and social stereotypes.) Thus, on the one hand, there is
this sort of non-prototypical analysis of identity
negotiation in the present volume; on the other hand, there
are also analyses that can be considered really
prototypical in this respect. In my opinion, Giampapa's,
Canagarajah's, Pavlenko's, and James' and Woll's
contributions (Ch. 6, 9, 1 and 4) represent the latter
case. Miller's chapter (Ch. 10), although it does not have
its primary focus on identity negotiation, is remarkable
for that it focuses on conditions of negotiation.

It seems that there is variable emphasis on various aspects
of the phenomenon of identity negotiation in the present
volume. Three aspects might be discerned here: CONSTRUCTION
(emphasis on identity creation), MODIFICATION (emphasis on
identity reconstruction), and NEGOTIATION as such (emphasis
on joint creation/modification/ascription by at least two
more or less discordant voices, intertextually or
intratextually). In Doran's chapter (Ch. 3), for example,
there is a switch in the place between excerpts from
interview narratives, which are presented with the emphasis
on the 'construction aspect,' and two excerpts of short
conversational exchanges, in which prototypical negotiation
between two speakers takes place. Blackledge's chapter (Ch.
2) is an analogical case but with within-one-speaker
negotiation. The chapters differ in the degree and
proportion of emphasis on these aspects.

I will turn now to the issue of discourse and discursivity.
Whereas Holstein and Gubrium (2000) have tried to integrate
and harmonize, at least in theory, the institutional
'macro' discourse-in-practice with 'micro' discursive
practice of self construction, the present volume slightly
'sides with' the grand-discourse concept, although the
editors do acknowledge the importance of the 'micro'
discursivity (p. 14). The authors managed to incorporate
the conception of grand discourse to analysis when dealing
with the negotiation of identities in the lives of
individuals or small communities, i.e., at the 'micro'
level. Nevertheless, they do not seem to have attended to
the micro-discursive nature of identity negotiation. In my
opinion, the authors do not usually show the sense of
identities and their negotiation as really interactionally
constructed, localized, occasioned, and dependent on
narrative structures _within_ the data analyzed. Many
authors used interview techniques in order to generate
their data but do not show, explicitly or implicitly, the
awareness that respondents negotiated their identities also
and primarily with the researcher. It is important what
questions researchers give, how they introduce themselves,
how respondents perceive them, etc. In Chapter 3, for
example, 'negotiation' does not appear as a situated action
(respondent--researcher) but as self-positioning of
respondents only with respect to majority discourse
(respondent--majority discourse), and in addition, rather
as a construction of identity than true negotiation
(majority discourse is not shown to receive and respond to
the respondents' claims). Robert Miller (2000)
distinguishes three approaches to life stories: neo-
positivist (viewing interviewee as affected by social
structure and narratives as mirroring objective reality in
a certain way), realist (building a data-grounded model of
objective reality), and narrative (viewing reality as
structured in interplay between interviewee and
interviewer). Those contributors, who used interviews and
narratives as data, approached them usually from realist or
neo-positivist positions.

There are, however, exceptions. Mills (Ch. 5) adopted more
narrative approach than some other contributors as she has
''attempted to show that issues binding together identity
and language were very prominent in _these data_ [i.e. in
her interviews with respondents]'' (p. 186, underlining
added). A strong focus on narrative aspect of the
negotiation of self is present in Canagarajah's
contribution (Ch. 9). The author explicitly deals with
strategies of self negotiation _within and between_
academic writings and discourses.

Concerning the approach to identity negotiation and
particularly the interactive nature of this process, the
editors explicitly state in the Introduction that the
authors do not take up the approach of interactional
sociolinguistics (i.e. Auer 1998 and the like), because it
deals with negotiation of identities by way of code-
switching and language choice (p. 10). However, it is not
only the work on code-switching and language choice that is
devoted to interactional identity construction and
negotiation, but also ethnomethodologically informed work
such as Antaki - Widdicombe (1998), or Hester - Housley
(2002). The editors state, however, that relying
_exclusively_ on interactive analysis cannot adequately
explore all the complexity of negotiation of identities (p.
25). I would agree, but like to add that the book under
review have moved very far from interactive analysis and,
as a result, might miss much of the phenomenon. In a reader
on discourse theory and practice, Wetherell (2001: 382)
identified ''six nodes of research activity which seem most
relevant to social scientist'': (1) conversation analysis,
(2) discursive psychology, (3) Foucauldian research,
(4) critical discourse analysis and critical linguistics,
(5) interactional linguistics and the ethnography of
speaking, and (6) Bakhtinian research. The authors of
this volume adhere mostly to critical discourse analysis,
Bakhtinian and Foucauldian research, and ethnography of

What is probably more relevant than all that has been
mentioned above is the question if the choice of approach,
data and methods was effective as regards the purpose of
the authors' texts - to lay bare or address instances of
social injustice. It can be concluded that it has.
The volume is undoubtedly of high academic quality; it is
informative and truly stimulating. The book is powerful in
that it has one wide but synthetic and coherent theoretical
perspective, within which all the authors managed to
position their chapters. It is a well-written up-to-date
achievement of a poststructuralist, socially engaged and
critical branch of qualitative sociolinguistics with
transdisciplinary overlaps, emphasis shifted from methods
to findings, and analytical interest oriented to the links
between the 'macro' and 'micro' of multilingual social


Antaki, Charles & Widdicombe, Sue (eds.) (1998). Identities
in Talk. London: Sage.

Auer, Peter (ed.) (1998). Code-Switching in Conversation:
Language, Interaction and Identity. London: Routledge.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four
Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1991). Language and Symbolic Power.
Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cummins, Jim (2000). Language, Power and Pedagogy:
Bilingual Children in the Crossfire. Clevendon:
Multilingual Matters.

Davies, Bronwyn & Harre, Rom (1990). Positioning: the
discursive production of selves. Journal of the Theory of
Social Behaviour, 20, pp. 43-65.

Fairclough, Norman (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: The
Critical Study of Language. London - New York: Longman.

Franceschini, Rita (2003). Unfocussed language acquisition?
The presentation of linguistic situations in biographical
narration. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung, 4, available
03franceschini-e.htm [accessed June 5, 2004].

Franceschini, Rita (ed.) (forthcoming). Leben mit mehreren
Sprachen: Sprachbiographien im mitteleuropaeischen Kontext.
Tuebingen: Stauffenburg.

Hester, Stephen & Housley, William (eds.) (2002) Language,
Interaction and National Identity: Studies in the Social
Organisation of National Identity in Talk-in-Interaction.
Aldershot: Ashgate.

Holstein, James A. & Gubrium, Jaber F. (2000). The Self We
Live By: Narrative Identity in a Postmodern World. New York
- Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Irvine, Judith T. & Gal, Susan (2000). Language ideology
and linguistic differentiation. In: P. V. Kroskrity (ed.).
Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities.
Santa Fe - Oxford: School of American Research Press, pp.

Miller, Robert L. (2000). Researching Life Stories and
Family Histories. London - Thousand Oaks - New Delhi: Sage.

Nekvapil, Jiri (2003). Language biographies and the
analysis of language situations: On the life of the German
community in the Czech Republic. International Journal of
the Sociology of Language, 162, pp. 63-83.

Nekvapil, Jiri & Leudar, Ivan (2002). On dialogical
networks: Arguments about the migration law in Czech mass
media in 1993. In: Hester & Housley (2002), pp. 60-101.

Wetherell, Margaret (2001). Debates in discourse research.
In: Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader. Eds. M.
Wetherell, S. Taylor & S. J. Yates. London, Thousand Oaks
& New Delhi: Sage, pp. 380-399.

Marian Sloboda is a Ph.D. student of Linguistics at Charles
University, Prague, Czech Republic. His main study
interests lie in sociolinguistics, bilingualism research,
language management, conversation analysis, and Slavic
linguistics. His dissertation will be devoted to Belarusan
and Russian language management, bilingual discourse,
language ideologies and identities in Belarus.

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