3 Discourse and identity

In this section we shall be looking at ways in which the use of language is closely connected with identity, focusing in particular on students’ use of oral and written language. ‘Identity’ refers both to how one sees one’s own position and meaning in the world, and also to how one is ‘identified’ by others. Of course these two perspectives are interconnected and mutually reinforcing, and we shall treat the concept of identity as essentially interactive; we develop a sense of our own identity in relation to the social world around us and through interaction with other people.

In this section we explore what is often referred to as the move away from a structuralist to a post-structuralist theoretical position on language and identity.

This involves the following ideas:

  • that identity is never fixed but is always developing and transforming
  • that language use or ‘discourse’ plays a central role in this process of identity formation and transformation
  • that individuals are constituted by not one, but many senses of identity which are bound up with the cultural contexts they inhabit.

We will consider the relevance of recent understandings about language and identity to issues of teaching and learning.

2.7 Reflection activity 2

3.1 Language and identity