Whose English gets paid off?: Neoliberal discourses of English and ethnic minority students’ subjectivities in China

Xiaoyan Grace GUO, Ming Yue Michelle GU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

Abstract

The study traces the trajectories of Uyghur college students’ subjectivity construction and transformation from Foucault's governmentality perspective. Drawing on ethnographic data of two telling cases, it explores how minoritized students’ subjectivities were linked to neoliberal discourses of English and constituted by power techniques, self-technologies, and affective dispositions embedded in wider institutional transformations. Participants were found experiencing a shift to the individualistic subjectivity associated with academic achievement and performance in English away from the collective identity of “authentic Uyghur” symbolized by the Uyghur language. Two salient discourses of English, i.e., English as constraints, and English as academic excellence, emerging from the neoliberal-oriented institutional English language education policies and practices, shaped the participants either as incompetent English learners or elite subjects. Participants learned to responsibilitize themselves through such self-technologies as confession and preaching, and affective practices. Yet, technologies of hope and optimism became for a few the enjoyment of experiences and performance of elitism while projecting a majority disadvantaged as affectively problematic others. The self-technologies and affective responses without recognition of larger structures of inequality could further reinforce the neoliberal logic. The affective labor of sense of solidarity, commitment to community, empathy for the deprived ones with critical reflection and collective action, nevertheless, may counter neoliberal logic and point to an alternative path to meaning-making and social relations. Copyright © 2023 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Early online dateAug 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Aug 2023

Citation

Guo, X. G., & Gu, M. M. (2023). Whose English gets paid off?: Neoliberal discourses of English and ethnic minority students’ subjectivities in China. Journal of Sociolinguistics. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12631

Keywords

  • Affect
  • English
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Neoliberal governmentality
  • Subjectivity

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