Reimagining migrant language education from the bottom up: an ethnographic study

Change log
Zschomler, Silke 

This thesis examines the impact of prominent discourses that emphasize the learning of English as a marker of integration on adult migrant language education. Using ethnography, I focus on the lived experience of a heterogeneous adult migrant student body within and beyond the institutional setting of a Further Education (FE) college in west London. The ethnographic fieldwork took place between summer 2017 and autumn 2018 - a time marked by hardening attitudes towards immigration and migrant integration and increased anti-foreigner sentiment. The contextualised and multi-layered analysis in this thesis highlights the mismatch between top-down discourses and imaginations of immigrant integration and the reality on the ground in the context of increased migration-driven diversity. To critically examine the phenomenon under investigation, I consider theoretical perspectives on the conceptualisation of modern states as a ‘community of value’ (Anderson, 2013) as well as understandings of citizenship which hinge on neoliberal imaginations and constructions of subjectivity promoting the ‘neoliberal self’. In order to see beyond these perspectives, I make use of Skeggs’ (2004; 2011; 2014) concept of ‘person-value’ which includes dimensions of both value (in an economic sense) and values (in terms of social values) and which makes it possible to highlight alternative value-practices. This study makes a unique and timely contribution in the way it brings out the multifaceted dimensions of inequality that operate at different levels of the phenomenon under investigation and provides a vital addition to the field of adult migrant language education in the UK. As an outcome of the emergent findings, this thesis proposes a normative shift from ‘language learning as the key to integration’ to ‘language learning for enriching solidarities in diversity’. I also draw attention to and question the way adult migrant language teaching is currently organised (and specifically the distinction between ESOL and EFL). An important part of the alternative approach is a shift from the register of the nation-state towards bottom-up perspectives developing in the different spatio-temporal register of everyday place-based practices and for the conceptualising of migrant language educational settings as ‘micropublics’. This perspective facilitates a change in pedagogical practice, i.e., by being attentive to the fostering of convivial capabilities and the inclusion of critical pedagogical approaches.

Liu, Yongcan
Migration, language learning, integration, migrant language education
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (1800772)
This research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)