Sian Preece

An identity transformation? The multilingual capital of working class ethnic minority students in UK higher education

In recent decades, neoliberal discourses have increasingly come to regulate higher education and strengthen the links between university activity and the economy. McLean (2006: 45) discusses the ‘economizing of universities’ and holds that the economy has been a key driver in moves to widen participation in higher education and the view of universities as sites for equipping students from a wider range of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds with the knowledge and skills to compete in the global economy. The widening participation agenda has encouraged linguistic minority students from working class families to aspire to higher education while neoliberal discourses have encouraged them to see higher education in terms of ‘upward mobility’ for themselves and their families. For students from widening participation backgrounds, upward mobility holds out the possibility of an identity transformation in which ‘life [is] envisaged as much more tied to the possibilities of being traditionally related to middle-class status’ (Walkerdine 2003: 238) than the social class origins of their family. However, in this identity transformation, social class is elided for as Block (2012) argues, the neoliberal project masks societal inequalities based on traditional notions of social class and invests the individual with personal responsibility for his/ her own destiny. In this paper, I consider these issues by revisiting data from my language and identity research with working class undergraduate university students from linguistic minority communities in the UK (Preece 2009, 2010). I look at the erasure of the bi-dialectal and multilingual capital of these students when subjected to institutional gaze and examine this in relation to a narrative of upward mobility and social class as an identity inscription. I ask whether there is any possibility of resisting the erasure of the multilingual capital of working class linguistic minority students in higher education in neoliberal times.


View Preece slides here


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