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Multilingualism And Identity in Transnational Workplaces

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The project explores the relationship between multilingualism and identity for Afghans immigrant youth who arrived in Sweden in 2015, largely as a result of forced migration. The highest number of these asylum seekers were registered as unaccompanied minors who traveled on their own to Sweden or became separated from their families in transit. The transnational settings where these migrant workers have typically found jobs are shop floors, service industries and factories in which they have to manage their linguistic and communicative practices in workspaces characterised by language and cultural diversity and have to interact with group leaders and fellow workers with different linguistic backgrounds. The theoretical framework within which this study is situated is inspired by a sociocultural linguistic perspective combining sociocultural and linguistic anthropology (Bucholtz & Hall 2005), language and identity as discursive products of social interaction and situated performances (Bourdieu, 1977, 1982; Giddens, 1984; Gumperz, 1982; Heller, 2002, 2007; Pujolar, 2008), and interactional linguistics (e. g. , Mondada 2014). This research proposal contributes to the notion that identity emerges and is accomplished in interactional contexts, rather than being inherited and pre-determined (Bucholtz and Hall 2005, Keevallik 2010).

The study takes an ethnomethodological approach, analyzing and uncovering the interactional and methodical practices that workers use to make sense of their social world (Garfinkel 1984, Goffman 1961) and understand the commonsense routines and everyday activities (Fitzgerald, Housley, and Butler 2009). What I am interested in are the processes and strategies by which immigrants learn how to cope with the daily communication at work and how to manage and respond to the language diversity that introduces and privileges Swedish as organizational/official language while other languages are used in the daily interaction at work (e. g. , Hill & van Zyl, 2002). I will emphasize on cross-cultural and social diversity of language in performance and identity and discuss how speakers use language to maintain or cross cultural and ‘language boundaries’ (e. g. Fredriksson, Barner-Rasmussen, and Piekkari 2006, 407). A variety of terms will be used in the study such as membership categorization analysis (MCA), normative and non-normative categories, and the doing of identity, to express a certain theoretical assumption about the object of study.

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Research questions

By looking at the interactional practices and members’ methods, this project will try to employ the members’ perspectives as to answering the following questions:

  • How speakers within and between interactional turns build translocality in their diverse linguistic repertoires and performances.
  • How transnational workplaces has adapted to linguistic and cultural diversity among their populations.
  • – What are the resources (linguistic and sequential resources, participation frameworks, non-verbal conducts) accomplished by the members to categorize transnationality as an accountable feature?
  • If the importance of linguistic and communicative resources is not diminished within manual work settings.
  • In which way social (in)equality in multilingual workplaces is affected by processes of transnationalisation. Through answering the above mentioned questions, the project will certainly address the issues of identity in sociocultural linguistics through a multimodal approach (Greco and Mondada 2014) and discuss how these immigrants as multilingual and multicultural transnationals emerge their linguistic practices in multimodal means of interaction.

The data

Much work on multilingualism at work is coming out of studies of immi-gration (cf. Heller, 2007; Hewitt, 2012; Roberts, 2007a). Using an ethnographic approach, studies will focus on Afghans immigrants, concentrating on the manual work settings such as Ostgotasvamp in Vikingstad and Eurofrom in Tranas which are characterized as multilingual workplaces populated by Afghans, Syrians, Chechens, Bosnians, Eritreans and Swedish workers.

Research methodology

The research will be longitudinal, gathering data of Afghan workers in order to analyze their experiences of workplace multilingualism by means of interviews, observations, video-recording, recorded narratives, or survey data. The data will be collected in specific intervals (e. g. once a month), so that I can record the daily routines and the activities in a long stretch of time to find any changes in the roles and the structure of the activities. The video recordings will be transcribed, digitized and the selected excerpts will be analyzed in detail for the purpose of the study. Throughout the research, ethical rules are strictly followed according to the advice given by the ‘Ethical Review Board’.

Theoretical Background

The research will be located within an intersubjective (vs. individual), praxeological (vs. cognitive) and performative approach to identity (Bucholtz & Hall 2005). Following a Conversation Analysis (Sacks, 1979) and Ethnomethodological approach (Garfinkel 1967), identity is procedurally relevant to talk in an interaction only when participants are obviously oriented to it (Schegloff, 1997). EM and the way it has developed in CA base the analysis on the normative facets of interaction (Heritage 1984). Both ethnomethodological and conversation analytic approaches seek to identify general practices within micro-level social interaction of people by which “social order” is achieved, rather than being “order” as a framework within which actions take place (Garfinkel 1967; Sacks 1992). Within a CA/EM approach, identity is procedurally relevant to talk in an interaction only when participants are obviously oriented to it (Schegloff, 1997), through which the everyday establishment of social identities and the rules that regulate interactions can be explained (cf. Stokoe and Weatherall 2002).


TimelineI intend to write an anthology of scientific papers to be accumulated as a doctoral dissertation. The time frame embodies conducting a more detailed survey of the field. This takes up much of the time of the first year; meanwhile, I will start collecting my data in the forms of observation and semi-structured interviews, audio and video-recording, and written notes. I will also take specific classes on the field. Accordingly, it is my contention, during the second year, while continuing collecting and analyzing data, to being to compose the first study. The study results will be presented in national and international conferences and seminars. I would also like to teach during the doctoral education. If given the chance to spend 25% on teaching, supervision and examination, the project’s plan will allow me finalize the dissertation by the end of the fourth year.


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