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"Globalization" and the English Imperative: A Study of Language Ideologies and Literacy Practices at an Orphanage and Village School in Suburban New Delhi

  • Author(s): Bhattacharya, Usree
  • Advisor(s): Sterponi, Laura
  • et al.

This dissertation is a study of English language and literacy in the multilingual Indian context, unfolding along two analytic planes: the first examines institutional discourses about English learning across India and how they are motivated and informed by the dominant theme of "globalization," and the second investigates how local language ideologies and literacy practices correspond to these discourses. An ethnographic case study, it spans across four years. The setting is a microcosm of India's own complex multilingualism. The focal children speak Bengali or Bihari as a first language; Hindi as a second language; attend an English-medium village school; and participate daily in Sanskrit prayers. Within this context, I show how the institutional discursive framing of English as a prerequisite for socio-economic mobility, helps produce, reproduce, and exacerbate inequalities within the world's second largest educational system. The notion of globalization, further, is deeply woven into these discourses. I begin by showing that while top-level discourses about English accept globalization as doxa, little attention is paid to its differential intervention along socio-economic lines. My study complicates the commonly liberatory rhetoric of globalization by illuminating how such discourses employ multiple strategies to mobilize institutional voices in order to control and restrict access to linguistic, symbolic and economic capital. Further, fine-grained analyses of the children's linguistic practices and interview data reveal how local language ideologies counter, resist, and contest these discourses and voice enduring anxieties about English. Because these discourses have fueled the proliferation of private English-medium schools in India, catering mostly to the poor, the classroom forms another locus of investigation. Its analysis entails the close examination of literacy practices, curricula, and pedagogy at the children's school. The study reveals that factors such as multigrade classrooms; teacher-centered pedagogy; level-inappropriate textbooks; emphasis on rote memorization; and the difficulty of teaching and learning in a language in which neither the instructor nor the student has proficiency result in limited and superficial English acquisition and also limit children's access to educational content. In light of my findings, I argue that such English-medium schools not only widen the English-vernacular gap, they also reinforce the role of English in elite formation. The significance of my study lies in underscoring the ways in which institutional notions around English and globalization flatten out difference and enact erasure of local voices, with serious consequences for educational equity. This is not merely an Indian story; the role of English in an era of globalization is the high-stakes language politics story of our time.

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