The political economy of language education research

Block, D. (2018). The political economy of language education research (or the lack thereof): Nancy Fraser and the case of translanguaging. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 15(4), 237-257.

Contributor: Anna Mendoza | Reviewer:

Nancy Fraser’s influential critique of social sciences research in the late 20th century

– Since the late 20th century, left-wing (socialist) theory has almost completely abandoned the question of “rich vs poor”

– It focused instead on recognizing and affirming racial, ethnic, gender and LGBTQ categories through positive images in the media

– This is particularly true in the U.S. and U.K., whose universities shape international scholarship

– Nancy Fraser noticed this and wrote about it in an article published in the New Left Review: “cultural recognition displaces socioeconomic redistribution as the remedy for injustice and the goal of political struggle” (Fraser, 1995, p. 68)

-Just when there are growing socioeconomic inequalities worldwide, we see a rise in identity politics rather than socioeconomic topics in left-wing political discourse

An example: Translanguaging research in education

– There is still no evidence that using multiple languages in the classroom leads to learning, even though translanguaging is a popular research agenda (p. 250)

– At least, translanguaging research has provided some degree of “respect for individuals and collectives whose multilingual communicative practices have historically been denigrated by educational institutions and society at large” (p. 250), such as Latinos in the U.S.

– However, allowing translanguaging in classrooms does not correct socioeconomic inequality by itself

– It may not even lead to better recognition of the group in the greater society. The author of this article writes:

“As for whether the widespread adoption of translanguaging theory in language education might constitute a case of recognition-based transformation, I am not convinced. That is, I am not convinced that such a move would somehow filter upward into the ideological realm, and to the roots of the discrimination that it aims to combat and/or eliminate, having a positive impact on how both translanguaging practices—and translanguagers—are positioned and treated by power structures.” (Block, 2018, p. 251)

– Like Bonnie Urciuoli, bell hooks, and Erik Olin Wright, Block believes that socioeconomic class matters!

– If your socioeconomic class is low, your translanguaging practices will be seen as inadequate command of both languages. If your socioeconomic class is high, your translanguaging practices will be a case of desirable multilingualism.

– Not all translanguagers are equal: Block argues that cosmopolitan, upper middle-class Chinese university students in London, studied by Li Wei and Zhu Hua, live in different circumstances from working-class Latinos in the U.S., studied by Peter Sayer and Ofelia García


– Block’s final point: “[T]he hard-core reality is that if we wish to effect profound change in society with regard to redistribution, working through education exclusively is never going to be enough” (p. 254)

See also: Fraser, N. (1995). From redistribution to recognition? Dilemmas of justice in a ‘post-socialist’ age. New Left Review, 212, 68-149.

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