Identity formation in globalizing contexts

Identity formation in globalizing contexts: Language learning in the new millennium. Ed. by Christina Higgins. (Language and social processes 1.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. xviii, 330. ISBN 9783110266382. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

This book results from a colloquium titled ‘Negotiating the self in another language: Discourse approaches to language learning as cross-cultural adaptation’, presented at the International Pragmatics and Language Teaching Conference at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2007. Six chapters were written specifically for the present volume.

The mind-boggling transformation of the concepts of self and identity has become a pressing issue against the backdrop of growing transnationalism and the proliferation of intercultural global contact zones. Far from presenting a uniform and homogenous picture, transnational realities reveal themselves to be multifarious upon closer inspection. The articles assembled in this volume address these complex realities in terms of their local specificities without losing sight of their overarching commonalities.

The book consists of three parts titled ‘Forming identities within (trans)national ethnoscapes’, ‘Identifying third spaces among ideoscapes’, and ‘Constructing identities in mediascapes’. These are preceded by a preface and an opening chapter titled ‘The formation of L2 selves in a globalizing world’, wherein Christina Higgins presents the basic concepts and also the scope of the field. The book is rounded off with an epilogue, a list of references, and an index.

Thanks to the large-scale movement of peoples across the globe in recent decades, new forms of hybrid and alternative identities are springing up everywhere. This is tied up with increasing interconnectedness of what Arjun Appadurai has called scapes. Thus, ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes crisscross to form new kaleidoscopic possibilities of self and identity.

Not everyone responds in the same way to these radical changes. The chapters in this book thematize different, at times idiosyncratic, responses. Ch. 2, for instance, looks at South Asian immigrants in the United States and Canada in general and focuses on Etienne, a working-class Cambodian-Vietnamese man and his struggles with the all-too-common sensation encapsulated in ‘I’m two pieces inside of me’. Brianna and Olivia, two young undergraduate students from the United States about to spend a spring semester in Montpellier, France, discover to their horror that they ‘have arrived just in time to witness the widespread and vocal outpouring of anti-American sentiment accompanying the onset of the U.S. -led invasion of Iraq’ (148).

In Ch. 11, Yumiko Ohara zeroes in on learners of Japanese as a foreign language at a university in Hawaii and their struggles to create new identities for themselves. Steven L. Thorne and Rebecca Black take a close look at how online digital environments have given rise to new spaces of identity construction thanks to a new set of ‘textual and multimodal tools involving what are arguably new literacies and communicative genres’ (258). Finally, in the epilogue to the volume, Christina Higgins points out some issues for future research among which is the question of how additional language users need to confront new identity formations.

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