Negotiating discursive identities in classroom interactions:

Cécile Sabatier

Simon Fraser University, Canada

WS170: Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity

The study investigates Arabic-speaking students’ identity construction through classroom activities in an elementary school in France. In particular, it discusses their positionings through their inter-relations and interactions with their peers and their teacher by addressing three questions: [i] how these students position themselves and others through discursive strategies, [ii] how they construct and/or negotiate identities in their classroom practices, and [iii] how these constructions and/or negotiations reflect on a redefinition of their social identities in the broader community.

Indeed, while classroom micro-organization depends on socially-determined school roles, Arabic-speaking students exceed boundaries by revealing several different identity constructions in connection with the different languages that they use in their everyday interactions: at home and at school, and in their various social networks of communication. These constructions demonstrate students’ understanding of how languages and cultures are legitimized (or not) in power relations. They also illustrate students’ agency in transforming and/or manipulating their linguistic repertoires and their identities in relation to different settings (home, school and community), social networks and situations. By questioning the contribution of the school to building a pluralistic society, students’ discursive strategies in the development of multiple and dynamic identities draw on their knowledge of social structures in their constitution of social relations; they also highlight the important role of classroom micro-organization in the negotiation of in- and out-group memberships.

The study is situated within the theoretical framework of interactional sociolinguistics and proposes a micro-ethnographic approach. It builds from an action-research study conducted with 28 students in Grade 5/6, including 10 Arabic-speaking students, and their teacher in a French-speaking elementary school. For two years, students and teacher encountered linguistic and cultural diversity during classroom activities to explore their attitudes and representations toward languages and their speakers. Emerging from conversations between teacher and students, and between peers, discursive positionings of Arabic-speaking students reveal connections between the micro interactions of the classroom and the macro socio-political discourses on inclusion. In-depth interviews with Arabic-speaking children then explored their linguistic backgrounds, their language use and preferences, their social networks, and their various positions within events and situations to understand/comprehend the shaping of their discursive identities.

The presentation will especially explore [i] how Arabic-speaking students, as well as other actors in the classroom, make the initially collective entity obsolete through the negotiating of their identities; and [ii] how several identity constructions challenge traditional theoretical frameworks in a school context that is used to taking a leading role in the linguistic and cultural homogenization of the society. It will then be argued that [iii] there is a need for a redefinition of the role that schools play in dealing with complexity, migration, language and society.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 02