css.php

ARC Fall Seminars

We are thrilled to welcome new fellows to ARC this fall semester. Each week, we will host a seminar where fellows present their current projects. All events in Fall 2020 will be held virtually via Zoom.

To register for these events, please use this form: https://tinyurl.com/ARC-Seminars

Commentary on Finex Ndhlovu’s ”The Language Nesting Model” by Matthew Glenn Stuck

In his numerous publications, Finex Ndhlovu has critically examined the relationship between language and issues of multilingualism, identity formation, migration, politics, and policy/planning. At the heart of his recent work, Prof. Ndhlovu is concerned with the complex interplay of social and political factors that make up the sociolinguistics of migration, and how to reshape heritage language planning and policy to better align with the needs of immigrant communities.

Prof. Ndhlovu impresses upon us the need to understand where someone comes from in order to understand who they are, stating “you can’t say you know me if you don’t know the people that I live with.” This notion perfectly captures the spirit of his recently developed Language Nesting Model (Ndlovu, 2014). As Prof. Ndhlovu shows, the model provides a more holistic profile of the unique language-based needs of immigrant communities than has previously existed.

A recurring theme throughout his talk is a call to challenge the “commonsense” assumptions about how we conceptualize heritage languages.  While language planning and policy typically assumes a direct relationship between ethnicity and language, this assumption is often contradicted by the linguistic realities of immigrants, whose language choices are largely influenced by complex migratory patterns and exposure to a wealth of linguistic diversity. Prof. Ndlovu’s research is centralized around two overarching questions: What are the actual multilingual practices of people on the move, and how do specific migration paths influence their linguistic experiences?

In building the Language Nesting Model, Prof. Ndhlovu conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of speakers from East, Central, and West Africa who were residing in Australia. Interviews comprised of people offering personal stories about their migration experiences. Prof. Ndhlovu finds that his participants often speak a HL that is not their native one. In fact, several individuals report speaking pigeons and creoles (new languages having emerged through extended contact between different languages) in their interviews. Pigeons and Creoles receive little to no government support due to their subordinated social status. Prof. Ndhlovu argues it is precisely these languages that serve to bridge relationships and create new and vital social networks. These narratives demonstrate the severe need for governments to provide institutional support for such languages.

Prof. Ndhlovu proposes the Language Nesting Model to account for these and other crucial findings that surfaced through his ethnographic research. The model leverages commonalities across the language experiences of African immigrants to paint a picture of rich linguistic diversity. Central to his model are the diverse language codes and varieties a HL speaker can deploy as linguistic resources. These include varieties of English, discoursal and cultural practices, African cross-border languages, small ethnic languages, and refugee “journey” languages, which are those languages picked up while in transit. The model achieves its goal of breaking down our common-sense assumptions about HLs by showing that the linguistic repertoires of transient populations must be better understood. Prof. Ndhlovu closes his talk by arguing that language policy and planning cannot address the needs of immigrant communities unless it shifts its focus to considering the lived experiences and linguistic realities of people on the move, which show much more nuance than what census data alone is capable of revealing.

Written by

Matthew Glenn Stuck

 

Reflections on Language and Power – Tatyana Kleynat at ARC By Sara Vogel

Language and power are tightly intertwined. That was my takeaway from November 16th’s ARC talk featuring the thoughtful, engaged, and critical scholar Tatyana Kleyn, who is an Associate Professor and Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at the City College of New York.

This message about language and power came through in the substance of Kleyn’s talk and the film she screened about how transborder young people navigate language, family, and school as their families repatriate small towns in Oaxaca, Mexico after years of living in the United States. The power of words was also a theme that resonated in the post-talk conversation, including in ways that revealed some tensions in our ARC community that we would do well to address moving forward.

I’ll unpack that conversation in a bit. But first: the talk.

Tatyana is someone I have had the privilege to work with through the CUNY-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, a project that brings K-12 teachers, administrators, and professors in bilingual education from across the CUNY campuses together to study and improve education for bilingual kids. As Don mentioned in his opening remarks, Kleyn’s work truly embodies the values and mission of ARC. Her research is interdisciplinary, straddling all of ARC’s clusters. She views phenomena such as immigration and multilingualism through the lens of theories that take into account racial, economic, and linguistic power hierarchies. And she is a public scholar, not content simply to write for narrow audiences of academics. Her films about the experiences of undocumented and transborder youth, as well as curriculum and guides for teachers based on the content of the films, are accessible for free online.

Before showing her film Una Vida, Dos Paìses (One Life, Two Countries), Kleyn asked us to consider the power of film as its own language. She argued persuasively that film can be mobilized as a research method, a medium of dissemination, and as service and activism. At the same time that she celebrated the capacity of the medium to “reprioritize whom we listen to” and to bring research participants’ stories alive for wider audiences, she also described some of the limitations and challenges of this type of scholarship. She has had to build strong relationships with her participants, many of them folks targeted in today’s political climate for their or their family members’ undocumented status. In addition, while she prefers not to use voice-overs in her films so that audiences hear participants “direct from the source,” she acknowledged her and her collaborators’ roles in editing and juxtaposing clips to create cohesive narratives.

The film she screened at ARC introduced us to a group of transborder young people living in Oaxaca, Mexico who call themselves “New Dreamers.” The film captures the complex, mixed emotions that come with “going home” — the feeling of belonging, but also of being “ni de aqui ni de alla” (from neither here nor there). One of the core themes discussed by participants was the role of language in their transitions to life in Mexico. Across contexts in the US and Mexico, languages are used for different purposes and have different statuses attributed to them. While the youth expressed love for the English language, and were often called upon by peers to tutor them in English, they also found themselves lost in classes delivered in Spanish, and felt peers and teachers in Oaxaca sometimes viewed them as stuck-up for their knowledge of English and experiences in the US. In her talk, Kleyn also described how indigenous languages, often regarded as less prestigious in their communities, are a key part of students’ linguistic repertoires, enabling them to communicate especially with older generations.

After Kleyn’s presentation, an audience member asked a question about the young people’s accents. It elicited a strong reaction from some of those present, including one who found it so offensive that he walked out. Rachel Chapman, a fellow ARC student, has provided her take on the question, and her response can be read on our blog here. Kleyn responded by critiquing the premise of the question, arguing that language ideologies about accent are rooted in socially and historically constructed hierarchies that rank speakers based on race, economic status, perceived education, ethnicity, and other markers (see Flores & Rosa, 2015 for more on this).

To me, the strength of ARC is its ability to foster critical conversations about dynamic and complex issues — immigration, inequality, multilingualism, and our digital world — with people at different stages in their academic careers, from different disciplinary, racial, and cultural backgrounds, in order to deepen research and practice in our fields.

Having conversations about complex issues across difference is not easy, however, and this moment at ARC brought those tensions into sharp relief.

Despite a professed desire for open, democratic dialogue, academic communities can reproduce many of the hierarchies they seek to dismantle. As we learned from the student when he returned to the conversation, for people of color, academia can be a violent space. Too often, people of color shoulder the burden and invest much emotional labor into correcting the oppressive dynamics which permeate our institutions. Others (read: white people) need to step up.

At ARC, there are some first steps we can take. There are many incredible organizations such as Border Crossers and the New York Coalition of Radical Educators, among others, which have figured out how to facilitate critical and constructive conversations across difference. I’ve drawn on resources from these organizations as I navigate my role as a white scholar and educator engaged in work with youth of color and their teachers, and have found them exceptionally useful.

To have critical and constructive conversations across difference, relationship-building and setting community norms are key. I noticed that when I began my time as an ARC student, there wasn’t a space devoted to building this community — perhaps such a space could be useful in the future. Some questions for ARC students and fellows to consider as we build community might include:

  • What are the challenges of coming together as an interdisciplinary community?
  • What norms might help ensure our conversations are both critical and constructive?
  • Who gets to study, publish about, and profit from research on inequality, multilingualism, and immigration? Why? In what ways does our community challenge those trends? In what ways does it reproduce them?
  • How might ARC fellows and students not just share our research, but work together to ensure we are also engaged in making our fields more equitable and just?

In many ways, Tatyana’s work offers us a compelling example of engaged, critical scholarship. She began her talk by discussing her own positionality — her own background and experiences, and how she arrived to her topic. She is transparent about how her own power and privilege shape her teaching and research. She forges strong bonds with her study participants, reciprocating in the communities that provide her with data. And her scholarship and teaching go hand in hand with her social justice activism.

I hope the talk from this week is a catalyst for some soul-searching at ARC. Not only might we strengthen and deepen our own work, but we might continue the hard work of dismantling oppressive structures within academia too.

Citation:

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171. https://doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.149

 

By Sara Vogel

PhD Student in Urban Education, CUNY-Graduate Center

Commentary on Tatyana Kleyn’s ”Transborder Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico” by Kahdeidra Monét Martin

According to a recent Pew Research Report, between 2009 and 2014, one million people repatriated from the United States to Mexico. As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn is interested in the stories behind these numbers. In particular, she studies the experiences of children and young adults who undergo these crossings—physical, social, linguistic, and educational. “Transborder youth are crossing many borders,” she said. Indeed, some recurring themes both in her research program and in reactions to her research are the power of language to form community and the need to cross borders in order to understand multiple perspectives. This blog piece begins by exploring the research topics, methodology and general findings of Kleyn’s work, and it ends by discussing the reactions to her lecture and offering practical suggestions for moving forward.

The Research

Kleyn, who is Associate Professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York, began her study entitled “The Other Side of Deportation Repatriation” as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico from 2014 to 2015.

Through interviews, classroom observations, and collections of art and poetry, Kleyn assembles portraits of transborder youth in elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, she uses documentary film as both a research method and tool for disseminating research findings to larger audiences. She said, “Film is accessible across borders. It does not matter your educational level or what language you speak.” Ethnographic data from her research on transborder youth in Oaxaca is highlighted in the documentary film “Una Vida, Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.” The complete film and accompanying unit plans are freely available at www.UnaVidatheFilm.com.

So, what are her findings? First, transborder youth bring their assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism that can be harnessed in the classroom. Differentiating classroom instruction to exploit their English language skills and knowledge of United States cultures can better support everyone in the learning community.

Second, it is important to note that transborder children are multifaceted and have varying degrees of fluency in the languages that they speak. Their linguistic repertoires are formed from the multiple speech communities that they have lived in. For example, one could hear features of U.S. English from the Midwest, Florida, and California; features of Spanish spoken in Latinx communities in Southern California; and Zapoteca, a language indigenous to Mexico. Generally, most of the youth in her study are more fluent and comfortable speaking English than Spanish, and they are least fluent in Zapoteca, which is stigmatized and mostly reserved for speaking with grandparents.

Naming themselves the New DREAMers, transborder youth negotiate their identities using language practices that are rooted in cultural and political hierarchies. Sociolinguists often refer to stigmatized language varieties or specific features of language, what lay people refer to as “accents,” in regards to prestige. We often criticize the less prestigious, stigmatized variety of a language while praising the dominant, higher prestige variety. Furthermore, higher prestige speech patterns that are considered normative or standard; one focuses on the content that their speakers are conveying. On the other hand, lower prestige varieties are considered irregular and substandard. Listeners tend to focus more on phonology and syntax rather than the substance of what the speaker is saying. These New DREAMers may speak varieties of Spanish that are lower prestige because they are different than what is spoken in Oaxaca. Conversely, their fluency in English is an asset that may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. These power dynamics and cultural fissions reflect the politicized nature of language.

The Reactions

After hearing about the project and viewing the 30 minute documentary on immigration, language, race, and class, audience members undoubtedly were feeling a mass of emotions. Personally, I was thrilled. I was impressed by Dr. Kleyn’s integration of mixed methods qualitative research and multimedia to magnify underrepresented voices. Her scholarship provides a model for me in several ways. As an Urban Education Ph.D. student who has been studying sociolinguistics since my freshman year of college in 1999, one could say that I have a close relationship with these topics. I’ve had time to mull them over, clarify questions, process strong emotions, and formulate my positions. But, this is not the norm.

Scholars from other academic disciplines and thematic clusters were processing their thoughts in the moment, perhaps unaware of the potential volatility in the atmosphere. The very first comment expressed in the discussion period was an anecdote about teaching multilingual children and a separate comment that drew attention to the fact that although youth had lived in the United States for several years, they still spoke English with a “Spanish accent.”

I am not sure where the comment was leading, or if there were a follow-up question planned after the anecdote and comment. However, I noticed that several audience members appeared to be uncomfortable and perplexed. What I heard in the comment was a lack of awareness about linguistic repertoires and the role of speech communities in shaping our linguistic repertoires. At the same time, I heard an ideological assumption of linguistic purity in the United States that is false and has been used as an instrument of racism in education, housing, and employment. It is this last piece that triggered some audience members, including my colleague who stated, “I’m sorry, but that is a racist statement!” He made other comments about being tired of racism at the Graduate Center before hurriedly leaving the room.

What happened? It was a charged context. We all hear and process information according to our own individual experiences and social positions. Bodies matter. Words matter. In recent months, my colleague and other Ph.D. students have experienced blatantly racist remarks such as being called ‘the N-word’ and ‘oriental’ in classes devoted to the scholarly study of language, power, and culture. They also have been subjected to sexist remarks in the same classes, and the individual rights of the offending parties—who are White—were prioritized over the rights of students of color and women.

Despite news articles to the contrary, I can attest that professors at the Graduate Center do in fact support the views of “conservative” and “right wing” students. They do in fact support academic dissent, even when it appears that comments teeter on racial and sexual harassment. And in this context, we students seek refuge in the lectures held at the Advanced Resource Collaborative with its stated commitment to promoting equity and critical, interdisciplinary dialogue. This work will not happen by itself. We must be intentional about forging community across boundaries of academic title, race, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic background, and religion.

If a graduate student becomes enraged, do not question his intelligence or maturity. As Audre Lorde told us in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” there is a place for eros in the academy. There is a place for rage as a defensive mechanism against the protracted, systematic oppression of our psyches. The academy is not neutral. There is a place for passion that can be transformative in our relationships, but reflexivity is key. What triggered our strong reactions to certain comments or actions? What are our “non-negotiables” as scholars? What experiences and teachings inform the values that we bring with us? Is it possible to understand someone else’s values and perspective? Can we apologize for our offenses and forgive others for offending us? Let’s assume the best of each other and receive each other with patience and compassion. Those are the first steps to navigating these often dangerous crossings of memory, of lived experience, and of perspective. As an ARC community, this is the work that we are uniquely called to do in these times, and to the extent that we are successful, the reverberations of our efforts are manifold.

 

Written by Kahdeidra Monét Martin, M.S.Ed.

Ph.D. Student in Urban Education

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Mellon Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellow

 

Response to November 16, 2017 ARC Q&A on Accents in Relationship to Race & Nationality by Rachel Chapman

I felt the question on why the speaker had a Mexican accent and not an American accent was inappropriate and offensive as it others the speaker, in relationship to Standard English or “American accent.” I write this because CUNY has historically been a place of struggle and resistance against the white & patriarchal supremacy that is often upheld in the knowledge production of academia.  My response to the question regarding the American accent in relationship to the Mexican accent is a response and resistance to the hegemony of English and its attachment to white supremacy. This has a history of what Joel Spring describes as “cultural genocide” or deculturalization, by which an individual is stripped of their language and culture most predominantly through schooling institutions within the U.S. to uphold the dominant culture. Thus, the language and curriculum of schools privilege & legitimize the dominant culture & language, silencing & delegitimizing non-dominant voices and languages.

The upholding of the Standardization of English without question in a space we seek to liberate, creates strong emotion among those of us who have been subject to the deculturalization process and who work to reverse this process through our research, teaching and activism at the Graduate Center and at CUNY. The problem in marking a Mexican accent versus an American accent is that the term “American accent” is connected to the Standardization of English or Standard English, which carries privilege and domination (Bonfiglio, 2002). Those that deviate from the standard due to characteristics of their speech, such as accent, vocabulary and syntax, are marked as other. Standardizing a language creates a hierarchy on the basis of language, in that the standard form is given greater preference and legitimacy. Thus, those who speak the standard or “American accent,” hold greater privileges and are perceived as speaking “better” or without an accent, than those who don’t.

To illustrate the othering within the standardization of a language as well as its relationship with race, the article, “Expectations and Speech Intelligibility,” published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, shows how stereotypes regarding race and ethnicity influence our perception in how we listen to people speak. Conducted in Canada with Chinese Canadians and White Canadians, Babel & Russell found that participants expected a particular signal based on skin color; specifically, that if an individual wasn’t white, they were perceived to be a non-Native speaker of English. Babel & Russell conclude that expectations and stereotypes of how people should sound are used when we understand spoken language.

The question regarding why the speaker has a Mexican accent and not an American accent, marks the speaker as other and perhaps assumes the American accent is more desirable. This in turn upholds the superiority and standardization of English in the U.S. In addition, the question failed to recognize language acquisition of the speaker. While in the United States for 10 years as a child, the speaker learned to communicate in English. Based on the speaker’s narrative, English was the primary language they used to communicate and used little Spanish during this time. When the speaker moved to Mexico, the speaker started learning Spanish, their then primary language used to communicate, influencing the speaker’s English “accent,” as we heard in the video.

The notion of an “American accent” being the Standard or correct form to speak English, upholds superiority and privilege that is unfair to those who do not speak the Standardized or “American accent” English.

 

Written by Rachel J. Chapman

PhD Student of Urban Education, The Graduate Center

Teaching Fellow, Queens College

 

References

Babel, M., & Russell, J. (January 01, 2015). Expectations and speech intelligibility. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137, 5, 2823-33.

Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the rise of standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Spring, J. H. (2016). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary on Catherine Mulder’s ” Mondragon, its Cooperatives, and its University’s Role” by Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

An Alternative to Capitalist University: The case of Mondragon University

Presented By: Catherine Mulder

Professor Mulder claimed that most academic programs assume capitalist structure and they do not regard anything to its alternatives. Since workers are the ones who know their job the best and who run the companies, it is best for the companies and institutions to rely on its workforce to make various decisions. Therefore, one of the alternatives to a capitalist system, she believes, is cooperatives which are broadly classified into three types: consumer, producer and worker cooperatives.

By invoking, Yanis Varoufakis, she claimed that capitalism might be undermining itself! Due to technological innovation and other things, capitalism is becoming obsolete. Will the world fall apart if capitalism stops now? she asked. Probably not, we will have a different system and maybe we could have more time for fishing and voting? She introduced Mondragon worker cooperatives as an alternative the current system.

Mondragon is located at Basque Region of northern Spain.  Mondragon companies are worker cooperatives where workers make rules and regulations. First Mondragon firms were opened in 1956. There are now about 260 firms and 15 technological centers, which employs over 80 thousand people. While Mondragon companies are subject to market forces and business cycle, they have faced very little bankruptcy case. It is primarily because they value workers over capital and planned market over the free market. In the areas where there were Mondragon companies there was very little unemployment because, if workers were laid off, they were absorbed in another company or given retirement benefits. She summarizes her critique of capitalism: what is the difference between a government ruling top-down and private companies doing the same?

While Mondragon companies are all over the world, her main focus was on Mondragon University. It is a knowledge sector of the companies. It has bachelor`s, masters and Ph.D. with various subjects from mechanical engineering to culinary arts. All stake-holders administer the university including faculty, staff, and students. They apply Mendeberri Learning Model whose components are training students to work cooperatively in teams, to learn how to direct projects, how to make decisions, how to negotiate and communicate. In this model, students have the central role.

In classrooms, in all subjects, they do not just assume capitalist models, but they learn about strategic management, market forces and how to be cooperative. The objectives of the university are: Broad social access to knowledge about the company and the global economy, developing interpersonal as well as critical and quantitative analytics, and the art of communication, team decision making (how to come up with mutually beneficial projects) and democratic principles (which is the whole idea: economic justice.).

At Mondragon, they elect their general manager. They elect a board of directors and then those people pick a governor body that does the daily stuff. Everything is done in a democratic manner and with a focus on its employees and the sustainability of labor. Major roadblock on forming such cooperatives is the lack of funding. To overcome that, Mondragon has its own bank which itself is a cooperative. While the ratio of average worker to CEO often ranges from $300-700 to $1 in several western companies, at Mondragon, it can only be maximum of 7 to 1.

Following her remarks, one can raise some questions: Where does the money come from? Does it not follow the same capitalist system to generate its money? If so, then how is it different among other from the current capitalist model? Why does a Mondragon company abroad have low paid workers who are not members of the cooperative while workers in Mondragon are the members of the cooperative?

Authors: Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

Commentary on Cecelia Cutler’s “The Corpus of New York City English Outreach Project” by Kelsey Swift

While Cecelia Cutler has an impressive record of academic research and publication, her current project focuses on something a little different: community outreach.
This endeavor comes out of her work on the Corpus of New York City English (CoNYCE) Project, which focuses on collecting data on varieties of English spoken in the five boroughs and the surrounding areas and will ultimately comprise of an on-line, freely accessible, audio-aligned and grammatically annotated corpus. Through this work, Prof. Cutler and her colleagues have contributed to linguistic knowledge of non-mainstream varieties of English, documenting distinctive phonological features and patterns of dialect leveling.
Documentation work like this has radically altered the way that many academics view so-called ‘nonstandard dialects’, highlighting the systematic nature of underlying rules, but this sort of change is yet to happen on a larger scale. Outside of the community of linguists who do this sort of work, negative attitudes towards non-mainstream varieties, including New York City English, persist, and many speakers are plagued with linguistic insecurity.
Prof. Cutler hopes to address that disparity by sharing the findings of the corpus with the public. This is an opportunity to both give back to the communities that have contributed to the CoNYCE project and to challenge mainstream ideologies of language in pursuit of sociolinguistic justice.
Inspired by various existing initiatives, including the Language and Life Project at NC State, the Wisconsin Englishes Project, and the SKILLS (School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society) program at UC Santa Barbara, Prof. Cutler is using the ARC fellowship as a starting point for this endeavor. Ultimately, she hopes to develop teaching resources, design an interactive website, and organize public events.
Drawing on her experience in teacher education at Lehman College, Prof. Cutler is currently developing specific ideas for activities that could be incorporated into social studies and English language arts curriculum. These include an investigation of the relationship between NYC’s immigrant past and language forms that have arisen as a result of multilingual contact, an exploration of common words with varying pronunciation, and translating rap texts into Standard American English.
Prof. Cutler ended on the importance of actively disseminating our work to a general audience because “if knowledge is worth having, it’s worth sharing”. If we are responsible researchers committed to a vision of justice, we cannot just assume that the message will ‘trickle down’ from academic journals; we have to do the work to make it happen. This is a valuable reminder for all of us engaged in scholarly work, regardless of our field.

Kelsey Swift

Commentary on Brian Nolan’s “Inequality and Prosperity” by Erin Cully

Income inequality has become the watchword of the current era. It is often used as a shorthand explanation for wealth concentration, economic stagnation, declining social mobility, various social ills ranging from the decline of civic engagement to the opioid crisis, and for the populist politics that have blossomed in the US and Europe. In his fascinating talk, Brian Nolan, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford, took a hard look at the evidence for these purported consequences of inequality, and in most cases found it lacking or inconclusive. But does data have the final word?

Take Brexit, for example. Many have argued that rising British income inequality was responsible for driving populist feeling. But Prof. Nolan showed that while inequality spiked sharply during the Thatcher era, it remained stable thereafter, meaning that the level of inequality did not, in a strict sense, correlate with the rise of populism. Yet Prof. Nolan didn’t discount the possibility that the data might not be telling the whole story. He acknowledged that there may be lagging or indirect effects, and it is possible that the spurt of inequality in the 80s sowed the seeds for the present wave of populism in ways that sociologists are still studying. Certainly the fact that, as he cited, education and geography are the strongest predictors for how people voted suggests that labor market competitiveness and uneven regional economic development — which are manifestations of inequality — rallied support for the “Leave” campaign.

On Growth and Inequality

According to Prof. Nolan, the claim that rising inequality slows economic growth is not robustly substantiated by the evidence. In my view, this causal relationship is not only unsupported by data but might also be conceptually flawed. Let’s say inequality does slow down growth: we are still left to explain what forces are creating inequality in the first place. And the possible answers to that question — financialization, stagnant wages, etc. — are all markers of a sedate economy. Thus, our hypothesis would be that inequality is both driven by and driving slow growth, in which case the impact of inequality on growth is a feedback effect, and we ought to focus primarily on the puzzle of slowed economic growth.

This puzzle cuts to the heart of a debate in the field of economics about the theories used to understand the workings of the economy. As Prof. Nolan pointed out, policymakers at the IMF and the OECD now argue that inequality can be addressed through market correcting tweaks, and have therefore begun developing policies intended to foster “inclusive growth.” But is inequality a bug or a feature of our capitalist economy? It might be more likely that slowed growth, like income inequality, is inherent to capitalism. In that case, are redistribution and other such schemes the solution? If the gears of the capitalist economy are in a secular slowdown, they might not provide more than a short-term reprieve.

Erin Cully

Commentary on Jeffrey Reitz’s “Behind Immigration Debates” by Philip Johnson

What impact does public discourse about immigration have on the lives and experiences of immigrants? The expected answer to this question would be that a generally positive public discourse should have a positive overall consequence for immigrants. As Prof. Reitz demonstrates, however, there are a number of ways to problematize this expectation. On one hand, the positivity of public discourse is shaped by factors such as geography. On the other hand, variation in immigrant experience does not line up neatly with the benevolence of public discourse.

Prof. Reitz examines these varying effects by examining discourse and immigrant experience in France and Canada, with Quebec providing a third case, that fits somewhere between the other two. He probes the expected answer through a broad sweep of measures, from likelihood of reporting discrimination, to labor force participation. Overall, once the differences in immigrant demographics are taken into account, public discourse does not appear to decisively shape experience. Other factors, such as generational effects, exert more consistent influences across cases.

Of particular interest (at least to me) is Prof. Reitz’s close attention to the content of public discourse. While Canadian discourse might be generally characterized as very positive, with French discourse appearing far more negative – or at least, negating – about immigration, there is far more to the respective conceptions of immigration than just a positive/negative divide. Prof. Reitz sketches out the profile of the typical (according to public discourse) immigrant each country – the educated South Asian immigrant to Canada contrasting to the uneducated, poor North African immigrant to France – and notes the importance of history, geography, and other large, structuring factors in shaping these images. He also notes the shift after 9/11, with various immigrant identities suddenly congealing into a stark Muslim/non-Muslim divide.

As is so often the difficulty in social science, some of Prof. Reitz’s theorized mechanisms left me wondering about alternative explanations. In using reported discrimination as a measure of immigrant experience, is the discrimination, or the willingness and ability to report this more important? And if each of these might have a different effect, what overall effect can they be expected to have when bundled together into one variable? Should we even expect any one, overall effect?

 

September 28, 2017

Philip Johnson

Commentary on Veronica Benet-Martinez’s “The Psychology of Multicultural Experiences and Identities: Social, Personality, and Cultural Perspectives” by ARC Student Fellow Eduardo Ho

The complex and intertwined world of “multicultural identit(ies)” was presented from a psychological social psychology perspective (as opposed to a sociological social psychology view), that is, from the perspective that zooms-in to the individual level, by psychologist and faculty member at the University Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona) Verónica Benet-Martínez (BM).  The connotations of the multiplicity of roles that people possess and enact nowadays are far more complex than they have ever been, as presently, people can take on roles that they did not traditionally take on before (e.g. the stay-at-home dad, the woman CEO, etc.)  People may be comfortable with the multiplicity of roles they play in their daily lives, however, they are not comfortable with their own multicultural identities – as it is “like having multiple husbands”, stated BM.  To which culture do I belong the most?  “When I am in one environment I feel X but people consider me Y and the reverse is also true.”  These are some of the ruminating thoughts that go through the multicultural citizen’s mind.  (Surprisingly, BM made no reference to postmodern theories of self-identity, which would have provided material for an excellent discussion.)  But, what exactly is a multicultural identity?  How does culture and ethnicity shape our identity and personality?  How have individuals who have internalized more than one culture develop a cohesive multicultural identity?  These are some of the questions that BM seeks to address in her research.

BM made the choice in the talk to use the terms bicultural and multicultural interchangeably.  This, perhaps, was an unfortunate choice.  Regardless, her definition of the bi(multi)-cultural individual is actually an anthropological / semiotic one: it is an individual with exposure to two (or more) cultures that has come to possess the systems of meanings and practices associated with these cultures (e.g. beliefs, values, language, etc.)  Thus, there are three domains of acculturation (i.e. practices, values, identifications), but these domains do not change all at the same time, as there are differences in the level of displayed acculturation, like for example behavior observed in the private domain versus the public domain.

BM rejects the model of Culture A vs. Culture B as indicative of anyone’s cultural affiliation, given that for her, individual relationships to cultures are not categorical, but rather partial and plural.  Instead of the Culture A vs. Culture B model, BM’s revised view falls within that of Cultural Frame Switching: there is a switch between different cultural interpretative frames or meaning systems in response to cultural cues.  During this part of the discussion BM interjected with a comparison between this framework and one which recently began to gain traction in Linguistics, namely translanguaging.  The comparison, even though interesting, raises some questions of substance.  Under the translanguaging view of language, the grammar of the speaker only contains features of what society has come to know [and label] as “languages”, and the translanguag-er deploys these resources freely, “transcending” the two or three (or more) languages that he or she manages.  It is true, there is no division between Language A or Language B in the mind of the translanguager, but the meaning and grammatical systems remain the same (i.e. for the most part static) for each feature of each language.  These meaning and grammatical systems are part of the “system” of the language shared by and with other speakers (similar to what Saussure defined as langue), and these are not necessarily permeable to the influence of cultural pressures.

The discussion about Cultural Frame Switching included a description of a series of experiments with Chinese Americans subjects, and how priming would help predict certain behaviors in the US Anglo subjects vis-a-vis the Chinese subjects, according to their culture.  When speaking about priming, BM returned to the issue of language, as she defined it as the most important primer of all, since you “effectively activate everything that is associated with that language”.  Even though this strikes me as an overarching generalization regarding the relationship of any language with a ‘specific’ culture, the point still stands.  In addition, it might be worth mentioning that the juncture at which BM’s work and linguistic theory cross each other would probably be a fascinating area of discussion and research.

The talk included a vast array of indexes and graphs.  The most salient measuring index was the BII: Bicultural Identity Integration.  The limited understanding that I was able to gain of this index is that BII measures how an individual bridges or blends different cultures.  BM made it clear that bicultural integration is not a trait, but rather it’s malleable.  An interesting fact was that BII increases when individuals recall positive bicultural experiences and it decreases when recalling negative bicultural experiences.  Biculturals, however, are more creative and innovative when compared to their monocultural cohorts in professional environments and in school settings (e.g. MBA programs).

The most powerful point of the presentation, for me personally, was the insight BM shared about how when one individual only operates within one culture, the perspective that individual has on that particular culture is less profound than the perspective another individual has on that same culture, if instead, he or she operates in a space that exchanges or constantly negotiates between two or more cultures.  That is, the bicultural owns a comparative perspective that the monocultural cannot possess.  Questions from the audience ranged from the historicity of biculturalism to the teaching and learning implications of biculturalism.  Age was a factor that was never mentioned in the talk or the Q&A: for example, is there an age range for the bicultural individual to gain a greater or lesser sense of belonging into a second culture?  That would be an interesting piece of information to have.  In sum, the talk was thought-provoking and very informative, with ideas that people may take all too for granted, and it managed to show the impressive body of research and researchers working on this very important topic.

~ Eduardo Ho-Fernández