Dissertation: Performing Bilingualism: An ethnographic analysis of discursive practices at a day labor center in the Southwest

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Oct 29 13:23:39 UTC 2008

Performing Bilingualism: An ethnographic analysis of discursive
practices at a day labor center in the Southwest

Institution: University of Arizona
Program: Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Elise M. DuBord

Dissertation Title: Performing Bilingualism: An ethnographic analysis
of discursive practices at a day labor center in the Southwest

Dissertation Director:
Ana Maria Carvalho

Dissertation Abstract:

This ethnographic research examines the social implications of the
ethnolinguistic contact that occurs in the U.S.-Mexico border region at a
day labor center in Tucson, Arizona. I discuss the multiple values of
English and Spanish in this setting and how individuals interpret and
negotiate these values in the construction and performance of identity.
More specifically, I analyze how discourses of linguistic capital shape the
organization of this community and influence the dynamics of employment
negotiations. The research setting includes immigrant day laborers
(primarily from Mexico and Central America), employers who contract
workers, and bilingual volunteers who act as language brokers between
workers and their employers; all of whom use language to interactively
negotiate their social status as they construct identities vis-à-vis other
members of the community.

My analysis reveals a discourse that places a high level of linguistic
capital on Spanish-English bilingualism in the economic market. Although I
have not found evidence that this linguistic capital has a real exchange
rate into dollars, my data demonstrates that immigrants rapidly acquire and
contribute to this locally constructed discourse. I explore the techniques
that workers use to exploit and promote their language abilities through
'performances' of bilingualism that are realized not only to secure
employment, but also for social positioning within this community of
practice. Language, then, is one of the many tools that both workers and
employers use in the construction of interpersonal relationships and social
hierarchies. In addition, I analyze gatekeeping encounters focusing on the
rapid employment negotiations that occur between day laborers and their
employers, building on previous research with regard to the concepts of
rapport, co-membership, and the presentation of an institutional self.

Finally, I propose a model for the study of intercultural communication and
contact that reflects the dynamic nature of contact and the complexity of
overlapping categories of identity. Identity formation is a multiplex and
multidirectional social construction that necessitates pushing beyond
binary models of intercultural communication. Identity construction is
informed not only by face-to-face interlocutors, but also by the linguistic
ecology of dominant and subordinate discourses and the imagined individual
and collective interlocutors they evoke.


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