Sandro Barros (Michigan State University)

A bag of Cheetos, borders, and an orange-colored president: A non-representationalist account of a multilingual after-school program

How can children’s language practices generally regarded as “background events” inform us about the effects of policies seemingly unrelated to language education but that, nonetheless, participate in the making of classrooms’ stories? What clues might children’s language acts give us about the effectiveness of multilingual policies in public education? In this paper, I report on a year-long ethnographic study of a K-5 multilingual afterschool program located in a Midwestern town in the United States. I reflect on a community’s effort to cultivate multilingualism amidst a context of intense political turmoil and persecution of linguistic and ethnic minorities. Animated by theoretical debates on the epistemological nature of languages, securitization, and commodification of language practices for defense and economic purposes, my non-representationalist inquiry aims to better understand the complexity of discourses that simultaneously value and devalue multilingualism as a societal practice. I aim to approach the subject by bearing witness to the ways children manifest multilingualism through their production of events, relations, practices, performances, affects, and backgrounds. That is to say, my goal is to evoke children’s emotional expressions when doing things with/in different languages; their sense of self and wonder when working with/through other languages (named and unnamed); and their distributions and classifications of languages across time and space.

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