«Globalization in the margins by Xuan Wang© (x.wang Massimiliano Spotti© (m.spotti Kasper Juffermans© ...»
Globalization in the margins
Xuan Wang© (email@example.com)
Massimiliano Spotti© (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kasper Juffermans© (email@example.com)
Leonie Cornips© (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sjaak Kroon© (email@example.com)
Jan Blommaert© (firstname.lastname@example.org)
© September 2013
Globalization in the margins
Leonie Cornips Sjaak Kroon Jan Blommaert
1. Introduction This paper will discuss sociolinguistic globalization phenomena in ‘marginal’ environments. It will tackle globalization and its sociolinguistic implications from the perspective of new media and communication technologies, of new forms of economic activity and, last but not least, from the perspective of legitimacy in the contentious struggle between commodification of language and other semiotic resources and authenticity, asking whether claims on who has the right to produce, own, market and distribute authentic tokens of ethno-local belonging can still be advanced. While globalization in the margins appears straightforward and unproblematic, it is vital for our discussion here, that its parameters are clearly defined.
In its general sense, globalization is not a new, not even a recent process. Parts of the world were of course connected throughout recorded history, large migrations have been perennial in almost any part of the world, and large trade networks connecting contemporary continents have also existed for millennia. What is now called globalization, therefore, is a particular historical phase in which interconnectedness and mobility acquired unprecedented — indeed, global — scale levels. According to historians such as Hobsbawm (2007) and Wallerstein (2000), this historical phase coincides with the global expansion of capitalism, and it can, in turn, be broken down in shorter periods of development. The colonial era was such an era of deepened globalization (Mufwene 2010), and the post-Cold War era followed by a 1 re-definition of the world order that extends till the present time is another one. As a consequence, it has brought us intensified global flows, both in volume and in speed, of people, goods, capital and symbolic social, political and cultural objects including language and other semiotic resources. The advent of the internet and related mobile communication technologies has been instrumental to this stage of acceleration in globalization processes, adding a hyper-dynamic layer of communication, knowledge and information mobility to the increased levels of physical human mobility.
One of the metaphors handed down from history and social geography (Swyngedouw 1996; Uitermark 2002) as well as world system analysis (Wallerstein
2004) is that of scales. A concept that in its most basic form points toward the fact that socio-cultural events and semiotic processes of meaning making develop not along a horizontal continuum of spread, rather they develop and move on a vertical and stratified continuum of layered scales. Globalization, as we understand it here revolves therefore around scales and the semiotic reifications taking place within and across them. It involves connections between local phenomena and phenomena occurring at higher, translocal scale-levels, and effects of such connections at all scale-levels involved.
One of the contemporary outcomes of this stage of globalization is called superdiversity: the ‘diversification of diversity’ (Vertovec 2007, 2010) consisting of an increased number of new, small grouped, multiple-origin, scattered yet transnationally connected, socio-economically differentiated, legally stratified people that move to new places and organize their lives with the assistance offered by new technologies. Urban areas all over the world are now seen not just as ‘multicultural’ and ‘multilingual’, but as superdiverse spaces in which a range of hitherto poorly studied and understood social, cultural and political forms of complexity come to emerge (Arnaut 2013 provides an overview).
In sociolinguistics, these developments have been addressed in a wave of recent scholarship, often attempting to find descriptively adequate terminology for the complex phenomena observed: terms such as ‘languaging’ and ‘polylanguaging’, ‘transidiomatic practices’, ‘supervernaculars’, ‘metrolingualism’, ‘translanguaging’ and so forth all represent such attempts to break out of a methodological system currently experienced as constraining and in dramatic need of upgrading (see Blommaert and Rampton 2011 for a survey and discussion). Such terms were coined in order to be able to analyze new forms of communication emerging in typically 2 superdiverse environment such as contemporary inner-city schools (e.g., Creese and Blackledge 2010; Jørgensen et al. 2011; Madsen et al. 2013; Rampton 2006); new forms of diaspora experiences emerging on the ground and being spread through the web (Machetti and Siebetcheu 2013; Li et al. 2012) as well as online environments (Leppänen and Hakkinen 2013; Varis and Wang 2011; Wang et al. 2012).
The phenomena encountered raised such analytic challenges that traditional approaches based on the descriptive and analytic stability of key notions such as ‘language’ and ‘community’, and in second order of universally used qualifiers such as ‘ethnic’, ‘national’ and ‘religious’ (to name just a few) had to be replaced by a new vocabulary and toolkit in which very little was taken for granted. This methodological effort, however, quickly spilled over into ‘atypical’ domains: it was gradually realized that the new tools of work on language and superdiversity could also be applied on older and more common phenomena in the field of language, communication and identity, and that the new phenomenology of sociolinguistic superdiversity could serve as a prompt to look across the entire field of studies for renewed and more refined analysis (Silverstein 2013; also Blommaert 2013a; Makoni 2012). An awareness of the scalar and polycentric nature of communicative environments, of the connectedness and simultaneity of action by people across large distances, of mobility as a key element in imagining the social, sociolinguistic and cultural world: all of these elements are now increasingly seen as default elements in a new, postFishmanian sociolinguistic imagination (Blommaert 2010; Pennycook 2007, 2012).
This prompt also worked in another direction, and this direction is central to this paper. Work on globalization and superdiversity has been concentrated on typical sites where features and phenomena are abundantly available: the huge contemporary metropolis with its explosive and conspicuous diversity in people and languages, its hyper-mobility and constant flux. Less typical places — peri-urban and rural areas, peripheral areas of countries, peripheral zones of the world, peripheral institutional zones where minorities are relegated — have been less quickly absorbed into current scholarship. Yet, upon closer inspection, there is no reason to exclude these ‘margins’ from analyses of globalization processes. Globalization is a transformation of the entire world system, and it does not only affect the metropolitan centers of the world but also its most remote margins. Thus, we are bound to encounter globalization effects, and features of superdiversity, also in highly unexpected places.
2. An urban bias?
Cities, wherever they are, are dense concentrations of resources: of populations and of their infrastructures. Such infrastructures include governmental, administrativebureaucratic services; economic and financial centers; layered labor, housing and commodity markets; centers of knowledge and learning such as schools and universities; hospitals, sports, culture and leisure facilities. Cities, consequently, are social, cultural and political laboratories where innovations appear if not first, then surely most overtly and visibly.
In the field of globalization studies, and spurred early on by Peter Hall (1966) and later by Saskia Sassen (1991) and Janet Abu-Lughod (1999), the gaze of scholars has been quite firmly on urban environments (see, e.g., Abrahamson 2004; Connell 2000;
Derudder et al. 2012). Such global cities were described as concentrations of various forms of power — which is not new — but also as crucial nodes in new worldwide networks of economic, financial, political and information activities now effortlessly transcending the borders of the nation-state and shaping new global hierarchical relationships (Castells 1996; Taylor 2004). The urban condition, so it was announced, has changed; an important part of that change was a transformation towards an urban ‘vernacular globalization’ in which diasporic and sedentary populations now created new forms of cultural and social life (Appadurai 1996).
In the field of sociolinguistic studies of globalization, the urban bias has also been observed, though to a lesser extent and with more nuance. It is outspoken in the sub-field of linguistic landscaping (e.g., Backhaus 2007; Shohamy and Gorter 2009;
also Blommaert 2013b; Pan Lin 2009; Scollon and Scollon 2003), and it is also true that many of the recent studies on sociolinguistic superdiversity are driven by data from globalized urban contexts (e.g., Blommaert et al. 2005; Cornips and De Rooij 2013; Creese and Blackledge 2010; Harris 2006; Jørgensen et al. 2011; Li Wei 2011;
Sharma and Rampton 2011; Rampton 1995, 2006). But at the same time, such urbanbased studies have quite systematically been complemented with work on more peripheral contexts and we shall highlight some of that work below.
In that sense, the sociolinguistics of globalization extends the general trend in the sociolinguistic tradition, where work on urban contexts always went side by side with work on smaller and more peripheral communities. William Labov investigated language variation both in New York City and on the more peripheral island of Martha’s Vineyard; John Gumperz worked in metropolitan London but also based some of his most groundbreaking insights on work done in India and in small villages in Norway; Dell Hymes investigated both inner-city Philadelphia and the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon; Michael Silverstein, also active in Warm Springs, combined work among aboriginal communities in Australia with analyses of outspokenly American urban phenomena such as the discourse of wine connoisseurs;
and Erving Goffman attended both to the behavior of people in public spaces in the big US cities and to that of inmates in mental hospitals. Landmark collections from the first generation of sociolinguists are telling; see the mixture of urban-Western and rural-Nonwestern studies in Hymes (1964) and Gumperz and Hymes (1986 );
and recall Joshua Fishman’s early preoccupation with language problems in the Third World (Fishman et al. 1968). Whatever we currently have in the way of robust theory in our field is the product of studies on a broad variety of contexts. Note that this also counts for sub-fields such as educational linguistics and literacy studies.
There is also very little fundamentally or principally wrong with work on urban environments. One would not wish to argue that Labov’s examinations of language variation in New York City were flawed because they were urban, or that Gumperz’s insights into metaphorical code-switching were brilliant because they were rural. One would also find it not easy to argue that studies such as Labov’s cannot be profitably applied to rural environments, or Gumperz’s to urban ones.
What would be wrong, of course, would be a sociolinguistics that studies only and exclusively urban environments, because a comprehensive, a ‘complete’ sociolinguistics requires input from every possible environment in the world. It is the importance of comprehensiveness that pushes us towards more attention to studies in the periphery, because in the field of language-and-globalization studies, the current sample is unbalanced, so to speak, with far more work done on urban-central than on rural-peripheral environments. There is an analytical gap that causes our knowledge of peripheral parts of the globe to be inferior compared to that of more central parts of 5 the world system. A science that would bridge this gap — a mature sociolinguistics of globalization — would be an extremely useful bedrock for applied and adjacent studies on language in society. i
Much more serious, however, is the danger of a metropolitan bias in our fields:
the danger of seeing the world through the lens of those societies that form the current centers of the world system, with the assumption that what occurs there can and should be used as benchmark for studies elsewhere. This bias and its risks of theoretical impoverishment were powerfully thematized by, e.g., Canagarajah (1999), Makoni and Pennycook (2007) and Shi-xu (2009); it was a crucial argument in Blommaert’s critique of discourse analysis (2005: 13−16) as well as in critical discussions of World Englishes and English teaching in a global context (e.g., Canagarajah 2006; Park and Wee 2012), where scholars now strongly advocate a ‘decentered’ perspective and emphasize the local conditions of emergence and development of the language (e.g., Blommaert 2010; Higgins 2009; Pennycook 2010;
The issue here is more serious because it is of theoretical importance. It relates to old debates about ‘emic’ or ‘insider’ views: in order to understand how people organize, structure, and render meaningful their world, pre-scripted assumptions always need to be carefully balanced against what these people themselves articulate and offer as explanations — theory from below, the cornerstone of the ethnographic tradition. In research, this issue is connected to that of voice: how do we actually get this theory from below to inform our findings (Hymes 1996; Juffermans and Van der Aa 2013)? Answers to this question may differ, but share one general direction: we cannot neglect the detailed analysis of local contexts of usage, local semiotic economies and local language ideologies if we wish to understand how people themselves make sense of their lives and life worlds.