[lg policy] guest lecture: Language Policy and Planning as a Complex Dynamic System

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 3 15:14:11 UTC 2010

Language Research Centre,
University of Alberta

Abstract: Francis Hult

Language Policy and Planning as a Complex Dynamic System

Francis M. Hult
University of Texas at San Antonio

As in applied linguistics more generally, a major issue in the area of
language planning and policy (LPP) is the need to seek connections
between individual language behaviors and societal forces in order to
understand how society shapes and is shaped by social actions.  This
need is often articulated as a tension between micro- and macro-levels
of analysis.  This is tension is especially salient for LPP, where the
aim is to understand issues such as how language policies do or do not
influence individual language choices, why certain policies succeed
while others do not, and how policies should be formulated to in order
to best foster multilingual education.  In this talk, I suggest that
the emerging application of complexity theory in applied linguistics
(e.g., Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008) might be one way to reconcile
the micro-macro tension in LPP.

With its focus on the interplay of multiple factors rather than on
linear cause-effect relationships, complexity theory offers a
potentially useful way to think about the multi-layered nature of
language policy, which involves multiple actors (teachers,
administrators, parents, legislators, among others) at multiple levels
of social organization (such as schools, districts, communities,
regions, and nations).  I highlight one aspect of complexity theory as
especially germane to the investigation of LPP systems: fractals.
Fractals are self-similar patterns that recur on different scales.
Drawing upon the work of scholars who have sought to apply the concept
of fractals in social science (e.g., Agar, 2005; Hodge, 1990; Hult,
2010), I suggest that thinking in terms of fractals is a useful way to
guide the kind of multi-dimensional discourse analysis that is needed
to seek out connections between the discourses embedded in policy
texts (e.g., Ball, 2006) and the discourses that mediate the social
actions through which policies are implemented and experienced by
individuals (e.g., Scollon, 2008; Scollon & Scollon, 2004).  I
illustrate this kind of fractal discourse analysis for LPP with
examples from my research on (educational) language policy and
planning in Sweden.

Agar, M. (2005). Local discourse and global research: The role of
local knowledge. Language in Society 34: 1-22.
Ball, S.J. (2006). Education policy and social class: The selected
works of Stephen J. Ball. London: Routledge.
Hodge, B. (1990).  Literature as discourse: A fractal theory of
language.  In R. Giblett & J. O’Carroll (eds.), Discipline, dialogue,
difference: Proceedings of the Language in Education Conference
Murdoch University, December 1989 (pp. 181-210).  Murdoch, Western
Australia: 4D Publications.
Hult, F.M. (2010).  Analysis of language policy discourses across the
scales of space and time.  International Journal of the Sociology of
Language 202: 7-24.
Larsen-Freeman, D. & L. Cameron (2008).  Complex systems and applied
linguistics.  New York: Oxford University Press.
Scollon, Ron. (2008). Analyzing public discourses: Discourse analysis
in the making of public policy. London: Routledge.
Scollon, R. & S.W. Scollon (2004). Nexus analysis: Discourse and the
emerging internet. London: Routledge.


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