Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.
The interview consists of four parts:
1) The first part focuses on the question of whether translingualism risks complicity with neoliberalism.
2) The second part examines the role of translingualism in Writing Studies, while looking into the implication of translingualism for the distinction of L1 and L2 writing.
3) The third part speaks to the question of how translingualism is relevant to places and/or contexts that see themselves as monolingual.
4) The fourth and final part suggests that translingualism is still emerging, and for that reason, highlights the importance of role models, mentors, and theorists who influence this orientation about writing.
Part I: “Does Translingualism Risk Complicity with Neoliberalism?”
SHAKIL RABBI: Could you respond to the recent charge by scholars that translingualism risks complicity with neoliberalism?
SURESH CANAGARAJAH: It’s true that new neoliberalism sometimes wants this diversity of competencies and skills in their workers. They want workers to be developing [these] by themselves. So they want students, citizens, to develop these skills by themselves. But then, if you look at translingual practice, we don’t make the same argument. We are not saying translingualism is completely in the ends of people themselves: that, there’s no room for teachers, there’s no room for institutions, there’s no room for norms.
So, what I would say is, translingualism as it is theorized by a lot of scholars, it is very politically savvy. You know, we do see a role for teachers, role models, engaging with translingualism with a sensitivity to power. So all the time, in my work, I mean, if somebody said, in my work, or in the work of Ofelia García and others, that we have no sense of power, that’s ridiculous. You know, we are always concerned about power, and how translingualism or plurilingualism engages with power.
We need to make a clarification of all these things as a product versus all these things as a practice. So if you think of multilingualism or plurilingualism as a product, as a kind of disposition, as a feature, maybe neoliberalism thrives on that. You know, for example, look at advertisements, marketing. They present multilingualism, translingualism, as a branding kind of mechanism. You know, to say “We are relating this to everybody. We love all the people of the world for our products etcetera.” and you know all those languages. But the way translingual scholars theorize this is, its not as a product or an essence, but as a practice. That is, how do you bring your resources to make spaces in business or education, or critique for more empowering ends? So translingualism might use it for its own purposes as a product, but translinguals– I’m sorry, neoliberalism might use it as a product, but translingual scholars are talking about it as a practice.
So there’s a difference. We have to make a distinction between translingualism as a product versus translingualism as a practice. And as we know, people, suppose neoliberals, use translingualism as a product, for their purposes. You know, as a branding mechanism, as a symbol, as something that profits. But we are talking about it as practice, which is very socially-conscious, sensitive to power. And it is going to vary in different contexts how we practice translingualism: against which norms, against which dominant groups, in which domain. It will be very different in different contexts.
Transcription by: Sara P. Alvarez