The beginning of this section suggested that the shift towards post-structuralist ideas within the field of language studies, as well as more generally within the social sciences, has opened up new opportunities for examining and understanding some of the complex relationships between discourse and identity, or, subjectivity, and the importance of these to teaching and learning. This shift has involved the development of a new conceptual apparatus for analysing social processes and the role of language within these. The definitions of discourse are part of this development, as are Eckert and Bucholtz’s use of the concept of community of practice, the replacement of the structuralist view of text with a view of text as social practice and the shift from defining contexts to examining intertextuality. The differences and similarities between the notions of discourse community and community of practice were discussed. Theorists and researchers have found Bakhtinian ideas, for instance the concepts of voice and heteroglossia and a dialogical model of communication, particularly useful in moving towards a more process-orientated framework for analysing communication and identity.
The ways in which students take on other people’s voices in their talk and writing is seen as significant both for their learning and for their developing awareness of themselves as particular kinds of people. In addition to reversioning specific voices, students use the vocabulary and discursive structures of particular discourses, aligning themselves with particular ideological positions as well as producing written assignments. The notions of discourse, voice and intertextuality, together with influential concepts from social theory such as ideology and hegemony, are enabling theorists and researchers to examine more intricately how language contributes to different kinds of social practices, including teaching and learning, and the important ways in which students’ language use, and their use of language for learning, is tied up with the ongoing construction of their identity.
In pedagogic terms, we discussed how difference and diversity are being transformed in some contexts from obstacles to learning into transformative resources, for example in work reported by Sola and Bennett, Gutiérrez, and Stein. Language, ethnic and other social differences can still, however, create powerful barriers for individual students, and relationships of inequality and exclusion are deeply embedded in institutional practices and social values, as shown in the research by Norton and Ramanathan. The reading by Rassool showed how people’s experience of language and identity has been affected by wide-ranging and substantive global changes.
We concluded this section by focusing on ways of researching and analysing the relationship between language use, or discourse, and identity. In particular, we focused on the way in which the notion of practice can be researched and theorised.