Language as social practice in the globalized new economy

Monica Heller, Alexandre Duchêne

University of Toronto, Canada University of Basel, Switzerland


Language as sexual practice in a New Delhi NGO Kira Hall
Communicating across institutional boundaries: Lg in the "new" political economy Susan Gal
Intertwined spatialities in call centre interactions: a multimodal analysis of a glocal workplace Vicky Markaki, Florence Oloff, Véronique Traverso
Language, Identity and Tourism in Minority Contexts Joan Pujolar
Mobility, Commodity and Language Ideologies: Managing Multilingualism in an International Airport Alexandre Duchêne
The ongoing repositioning of French and English minorities in the Canadian Navy Michelle Daveluy
“Talk about Luck”: Coherence, Contingency, Character and Class in the Life Stories of Filipino Canadians in Toronto. Bonnie McElhinny, Valerie Damasco, Shirley Yeung, Angela DeOcampo, Monina Febria, Christianne Collantes, Jason Salonga

Conventional wisdom has it that the globalized new economy simply reduces in number and extends in scope the fixed identities associated with Nation-State markets. In fact, globalization entails the increased salience of locally variable conditions connected to the growing importance of both niche marketing and of linguistic and cultural value added to material and symbolic products. For every standardizing process associated with globalization we find linguistic and cultural variability at the heart of localization.

That said, there is marked variation in the forms taken by relationships between globalization and localization, between linguistic and cultural dimensions of social practice and its discursive legitimation, and among competing ideologies of language and identity. The goal of this panel is to explore some dimensions of this variability as it concerns localized dimensions of globalization in a wide range of sites.

One thread of this panel concerns the management of globalization in work sites typical of the new economy. These include sites such as call centres, airports, tourist sites, or international NGOs. In such tertiary sector sites, language plays a central role in ways that differ radically from the marginalization of verbal communication in the primary and secondary sector activities typical of the “old” economy (Boutet 2001), it is the primary working tool, the primary materiality of work, and often its principal product (Cameron 2000, Heller and Boutet 2006). Communication skills become important as management strategies, as production strategies and as products in and of themselves. In addition, and in contradiction to widely-publicized fears about glottophagic languages like English (Calvet 1984), multilingualism emerges as a major concern. Transnational networks for international markets in which, it turns out, localization (that is, adaptation of global strategies to local market conditions) is critical to successful global reach, cannot function without some form of multilingualism – although which precise form, both in terms of content and practice, remains a subject of contestation, and, sometimes, of mystery and speculation. As a result, multilingualism itself is commodified, while remaining a key terrain of negotiation of the articulation between the local and the global.

The second thread concerns the confrontation of identity practices with new forms of circulation and regulation of goods, people and discourses. Nation-States, and their legitimating discourses linking language, culture, identity, and citizenship (Bauman and Briggs 2003), have historically been associated with the construction of markets (Hobsbawm 1990). The current forms of globalizing expansion of these markets, with the massive circulation of goods, people and discourses Castells 2000), and the neoliberal forms of regulation that characterize them, call the discursive regime of nationalism into question. In this panel we will discuss some specific sites where we see this tension emerging, including the repositioning of linguistic minority and international agency discourses and institutions, and the constitution of discourses of identity and position among diasporic communities.

Through an ethnographic exploration of the role of language as discursive terrain, as emblem and as commodity in the articulation of local constructions of position with the global, neoliberalized, late modern processes of capitalism, this panel aims at linking agency and structuration (Giddens 1984). Our approach blurs the dichotomy between “micro” and “macro”, arguing instead that sociolinguistic ethnography allows for the tracing of the structuring consequences of local action in specific political economic conditions, as well as of the structured constraints on local action observable in significant sites of discursive production.

The panel will be constructed around eight papers dealing with the two major thematic threads described above, with two discussants. The discussion questions we propose include:
- How can sociolinguistic ethnography adequately account for the articulation of the local and the global under current political economic conditions?
- How can we establish relations between the local construction of the interaction order and their sense-making and structuring consequences for institutional processes?
- What might the consequences of commodification of language and identity be for ideologies of language, identity, nation and State? And for the relationship between linguistic practice in the here-and-now and the construction of social difference (categorization) and social inequality?
- How can we capture the role of language in the circulation of goods, people and discourses?