Joan Pujolar (U. Oberta de Catalunya)

Multilingualism, neoliberal subjectivity, and class

In this paper, I propose to examine different forms of linguistic appropriation as expressing and constituting differing forms of investment in neoliberal subjectivities. First I confront Giddens (1991) and Laval and Dardot (2013) to discuss what is understood by neoliberal subjects and why this it is relevant to contemporary sociolinguistic processes. My argument is that the dispositions needed to learn languages and use them socially are unequally distributed so that there is a connection between these dispositions and class. The material also provides the grounds for a critique of educational institutions that treat language learning as an abstract skill that can be acquired in isolation from social intercourse.

I focus on a sample of 34 new speakers of Catalan of different profiles: local Spanish-speakers, mobile professionals, migrants, spouses and “lifestyle” tourists. The interviews were geared towards understanding how people manage to effectively speak a language in social life. In these narratives, references to schooling or educational contexts were brief; but people conceptualized language learning through the terms and orientations acquired at school. However while middle-class new speakers regarded language learning as a set of procedures accessible via formal training, lower class speakers spoke of long and costly processes of incomplete formal learning and informal exposure, so that speaker legitimacy was never fully reached.

I suggest that this is one of the ways in which class differences are reproduced in the contemporary world, one in which the lower classes do not have access to the forms of identity experimentation and development that constitute the ideal neoliberal subject.

Giddens, Anthony, (1991), Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Laval, Christian/Dardot, Pierre, (2013), The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, London, Verso.