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Becoming English speakers: a critical sociolinguistic ethnography of English, inequality and social mobility in Delhi

Highet, Katherine Elizabeth; (2021) Becoming English speakers: a critical sociolinguistic ethnography of English, inequality and social mobility in Delhi. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis explores how students in an educational NGO in Delhi come to seek out English as a means for social mobility. It highlights the tensions between such discourses and the inequality that students encounter through other elements of social stratification such as class, caste, gender and religion, and interrogates the limits of the linguistic capital of English in such a pursuit. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork (2018-19) consisting of daily participant observation, interviews with students and staff, and analysis of textual artefacts, I opt for a critical sociolinguistic ethnographic approach and a focus on theoretical tools and frameworks that allow for an exploration of the situatedness of language practice and meaning-making, of the ideological and indexical signalling of practices, and of the historical and political economic constraints and affordances which exist. I argue that students’ experiences with English and their construction of the linguistic object are shaped through their own lived trajectories and social positioning, through their dialectical engagement with neoliberal discourses that frame English as a key to social mobility for (certain) Indians, and through their navigation of both the linguistic capital and the associated non-linguistic capital that comes to form part of the ‘package’ of English speakerhood. Ultimately, I demonstrate how students both reproduce and contest simple correlations of English and success, how they oscillate between hope and despair by bringing to the forefront their own experiences of social stigma and discrimination, and how they come to understand the pursuit of English as not only the acquisition of a linguistic resource but as an entire transformation of the self – a transformation that exhorts not only a neoliberal subjectivity but a particular personhood shaped around notions of caste, middle-classness and coloniality.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Becoming English speakers: a critical sociolinguistic ethnography of English, inequality and social mobility in Delhi
Event: UCL
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10122328
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