AAAL 2023: Invited Colloquium

Negotiating identity in an unequal digital world

Ron Darvin, University of British Columbia

Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia

Rodney Jones, University of Reading

Colloquium Abstract

As learners and teachers of language navigate digitally mediated spaces, they perform identities that have become increasingly fluid and complex. Engaging with both human and nonhuman interactants in these digital spaces, they access different forms of knowledge and diverse social networks that are valued in unequal ways. Navigating these ideological spaces, learners and teachers position themselves and are positioned by others as they negotiate diverse digital repertoires. At the same time, platform designs and online cultures structure behaviour in ways that can marginalize and exclude, amplifying inequalities of race, gender, and social class. By offering critical perspectives of digitally mediated language and literacy practices, across global spaces, this panel casts a light on how applied linguistics research can address issues of inequality and exclusion and enable pathways towards a more equitable digital world. The panel presents conceptual and methodological innovations that can enable learners and teachers of language to exercise human agency, invest in learning and teaching, and claim legitimate digital identities.

Claiming the right to speak: Identity, investment and online communicative competence 

Ron Darvin,University of British Columbia,

Abstract:  Perhaps the greatest paradox of the discourses of globalization and technology is that despite increased mobility and connectivity, new forms of inequality and modes of exclusion continue to emerge, often concealed in metaphors of flow and convergence. As learners move across online spaces, mechanisms of power operate in often invisible ways, refracting inequalities offline, amplifying the voices of some while silencing others. Drawing on data from narrative inquiry and case study research of racialized, minoritized, and migrant youth from secondary schools in Vancouver and Hong Kong, I argue that when these multilinguals of different social class positions negotiate their identities online, they can be positioned by the way they deploy their digital repertoires as they move across shifting orders of indexicality (Blommaert, 2010). Using Darvin and Norton’s (2015) model of investment to frame this argument, I demonstrate how learners in these two studies assemble their linguistic, semiotic, material and social resources in ways that are valued unequally by gatekeepers of online spaces and powerful others. At the same time, the sociotechnical structures and algorithms of these platforms that index specific ideologies have the power to program sociality in ways that can exclude others as well. For learners of diverse backgrounds to invest in the communicative practices of these online spaces, they will need to both recognize and challenge the rules of the game (Bourdieu, 1990) and the cultures-of-use (Thorne, 2016) that circumscribe these spaces.  By helping learners develop this online communicative competence, language and literacy education can empower youth to assert their legitimate place online and claim the right to speak. 

Narrative and spatial-temporal identities in the digital literacies of migrant youth

Wan Shun Eva Lam, Northwestern University, USA,

Abstract:  Movements and navigation across spatial boundaries and various political, cultural and linguistic borders characterize the everyday literacies of migrants and children of migrants, particularly in view of nativist and criminalizing rhetoric and policies in many parts of the world. Yet, spatial-temporal ideas and framings are also semiotic resources that migrants can mobilize to challenge border politics and expand the ways they belong in the world. This presentation brings together two projects that explore (1) represented time-spaces in a youth-produced video documentary on migration in a high school classroom and (2) lived time-spaces in the everyday digital literacies of youth of migrant backgrounds as expressed in the youths’ interview narratives. In the classroom study, we considered how the construction of spatial and temporal contexts in a narrative affords different vantage points for interrogating immigration policies. This interest in space-time and narrative prompted us to use a complementary lens to explore the digital literacies of transnational Chinese and Mexican youth. We analyze how the youth narrate and frame the multiple spatial-temporal contexts for developing their transnational identities and knowledge in their everyday use of digital media. 

Our analyses draw from concepts of chronotope and scale informed by the empirical scholarship of transnational literacies of migrant youth and families (Christiansen, 2017; Lam et al., 2021; Skerrett & Bomer, 2013). While the idea of scale captures the layered and stratified contexts that affect and inform our experiences, chronotope as a semiotic concept allows us to examine how multiple space-time scales are configured in an interaction or narrative to enable particular subject positionings and actions. In linking the two studies on video documentary and everyday digital literacies, we are interested in how young people’s lived experiences of space and time can inform literacy, narrative and the teaching and learning of migration in educational settings.

The Global Forum on Southern epistemologies: Technology and insurgent scholarship

Sinfree Makoni, Pennsylvania State University, USA,
Rafael Gomes, University of Oslo, Norway,
Magda Madany-Saa, Pennsylvania State University, USA,
Bassey Antia, University of the Western Cape, South Africa, 
Chanel Van Der Merwe, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa,

Abstract:  The Global Forum is an umbrella term for a project which is made up of multiple strands: online dialogue, book publications, video, and film production. It is a collaborative Project which although organized from Penn State has multiple focal points. It is concerned primarily with exploring other 'waves' or ways of framing and conducting language studies in both the Global South and Global North. In this presentation, we describe how the Global Forum contributes to debates on the 'geopolitics of knowledge' as it pertains to language studies. In particular, we illustrate how language scholarship in the Global North is partially indebted to diverse traditions of scholarship in the Global South. We discuss how the forum explores interfaces between language and other areas of human and non-human scholarship and seeks to collapse distinctions between human and non-human beings. We demonstrate how the forum fosters collegiality and dialogue, using the technologies imposed on us during the pandemic to our collective benefit.  We describe an innovative book series, an outcome of the Global Forum, in which we experiment with the format of the book. As such, we challenge the colonial concept of a single monologic authorial voice by integrating multiple voices, consistent with decoloniality and the insurgent, democratic and politically engaged nature of our scholarship.

Translator Identity, Multilingualism, and the Global Storybooks Project

Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Asma Afreen, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Liam Doherty, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Monica Shank Lauwo, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Espen Stranger-Johannessen, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway,

Abstract:  Although a range of studies suggest that translation is a valuable pedagogical tool for the development of multilingualism, the process of translation and the identity of the translator is invisible in much research on translation. This collaborative presentation brings together research findings on translator identity that arise from the development of the multilingual Global Storybooks Project ( This project is a free digital portal with stories that have been repurposed from the African Storybook initiative and translated into more than 60 new languages across over 50 global sites (Norton, Stranger-Johannessen & Doherty, 2020.) In our presentation, we begin with a discussion of the ways in which Afreen (in press) drew on a self-study of her translation of English storybooks into Bangla, and how she developed a “continuum of equivalence” model to capture shifts in her identity as a translator. We then turn to an extension of this model developed by Doherty, Norton, and Stranger-Johannessen (in press), drawing on translation data in Swahili by Shank Lauwo. We demonstrate that practices of translation, and translator identity, can be identified as both horizontal and vertical. The horizontal axis is between orientations to the text itself (from formal to functional equivalence), while the vertical axis indexes the source and target languages involved in translation (from non-speaker, to L1, L2, L3, Ln, HL, etc.), as well as the range of stakeholders involved, including translator, proofreader, editor, and reader. We demonstrate that translation in the Global Storybooks project incorporates two divergent theorizations of translanguaging: one which recognizes the strategic usefulness of named languages, and the other which recognizes the importance of linguistic repertoires. Our findings extend research on identity in language education (Norton & De Costa, 2018) and provide a framework for further research on translation and translators across global sites.

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