Language in Late Capitalism Pride and Profit by Alexandre Duchêne and Monica Heller

First published 2012 by Routledge


List of Figures and Tables


1 Pride and Profit: Changing Discourses of Language, Capital and Nation-State MONICA HELLER AND ALEXANDRE DUCHÊNE

2 Sociolinguistic Regimes and the Practices as Terrain of Struggle in a Swiss Football Stadium SUSAN GAL

3 Commodification of Pride and Resistance to Profit: Language Practices as Terrain of Struggle in a Swiss Football Stadium ALFONSO DEL PERCIO AND ALEXANDRE DUCHÊNE

4 “Total Quality Language Revival” JACQUELINE URLA

5 Literary Tourism: New Appropriations of Landscape and Territory in Catalonia JOAN PUJOLAR AND KATHRYN JONES

6 Pride, Profit and Distinction: Negotiations Across Time and Space in Community Language Education ADRIAN BLACKLEDGE AND ANGELA CREESE

7 War, Peace and Languages in the Canadian Navy MICHELLE DAVELUY

8 Frontiers and Frenchness: Pride and Profit in the Production of Canada MONICA HELLER AND LINDSAY BELL

9 The Making of “Workers of the World”: Language and the Labor Brokerage State BEATRIZ P. LORENTE

10 Language Workers: Emblematic Figures of Late Capitalism JOSIANE BOUTET

11 Silicon Valley Sociolinguistics?: Analyzing Language, Gender and Communities of Practice in the New Knowledge Economy BONNIE MCELHINNY

Notes on Contributors



All insist on the ways in which “pride” and “profit” are co-constitutive discursive tropes. This co-constitution is visible in the tensions and struggles each chapter recounts. The shift to late capitalism changes market conditions, and therefore repositions social actors with respect to their access to capital. Gal points to the ways in which these actors are both institutional (indeed, also state and supranational, in the case of the European Union, which is her focus) and individual, and to how their fates are inextricably intertwined. She argues that late capitalism onto new spaces, on ways that open up opportunities for some, while marginalizing others. Change is uneven, but its form is familiar.

At the same time, differentially located actors navigate the new waters in a variety of ways. Sometimes actors positioned favorably on modernist markets attempt to maintain the value of their capital by resisting its appropriation by other actors’ attempts at commercialization; this is clearly the case of the Swiss football fans discussed by Del Percio and Duchêne who radicalize their “pride” position and practices in the face of investors’ and other fans’ interest in turning them into sources of profit (in the strict monetary sense as well as a symbolic sense). In others, actors try to appropriate the “profit” trope in the interests of maintaining their position in new market conditions; this is the case of Basque and Catalan linguistic minorities in Spain, francophones in Canada or Welsh speakers in Great Britain, who try to import management or economic development techniques into linguistic revitalization (see chapters by Urla, and by Heller and Bell), or who commodify authenticity as a tourist product (see chapter on Catalan literature by Pujolar and Jones). We see similar tensions between “pride” and “profit” in other institutions traditionally legitimized by the one, now traversed by the other. Sport, politics and literature are not the only institutional spaces affected; Blackledge and Creese show how heritage language education in Britain is torn between older discourses as a source of capital of distinction, notably on the British postsecondary education market, or of capital necessary for access to globalized networks. Daveluy discusses the ways in which the Canadian military’s legitimacy depends on its recruitment of both francophones and anglophones, constructing bilingualism as capital of distinction in processes of recruitment to military jobs, while at the same time military management renders that capital useless on the job. Heller and Bell show how these complex interconnections work themselves out in the ways in which late capitalism positions francophone Canadian workers. Understood as a labor category, “francophones” have long engaged in gendered job-related mobility that sustains the fictively fixed communities at the center of nationalist ideologies, and that themselves become labor markets requiring mobility. Authenticity becomes a source of capital for some, while marginalizing others whose authenticity legitimizes and sustains those who define them (and to whom they are often related). New conditions stretch this symbiosis to its limits, pushing some francophones to reimagine themselves as “citizens of the world” no longer bound by the ethnolinguistic organization of the Canadian political economy.

We also see the positioning of institutional actors seeking to mobilize the authenticity resources legitimately “owned” by others as a way to increase profit. Del Percio and Duchêne already allude to such actors in their discussion capital’s traditional partner, the nation-state, redefines its economic policies in ways which facilitate the production of Filipino transnational workers, and constructs them both as an export product and as a source of national pride. Lorente also points to a further important development on the markets of late capitalism, namely, the transmutation of authenticity into commodifiable skills, in particular linguistic ones. Here authenticity is recast by the state: it is no longer a matter of local rootedness and monolingualism, but rather of flexibility and multilingualism. Being a Filipina “supermaid” does not mean being able to teach the children under your care Tagalog, or to cook them Filipino food (although it might sometimes be that, too); it is rather a matter of being able to speak the language of the employer.

Boutet focuses on the ways in which such language skills have emerged as central to the tertiary sector; separate from the Romantic notions of authenticity that still underlie evaluations of linguistic competence even in the globalized new economy. Taking a historical perspective, she shows how language has moved from being understood as an obstacle to industrial production, to being not only a process but also a product of work in the new economy (Duchêne 2009; Heller 2010). This raises a number of questions about how to define what counts as linguistic proficiency, and about who counts as a legitimate speaker. At the same time, both the industrial and the tertiary sectors regulate language heavily, employing of communication (rather than manual or mechanical labor), or what effect the new centrality of linguistic form and practice in economic production has on our ideas about language. Because of course we need to think about what we mean by “our” ideas. McElhinny insists that sociolinguistics is but one conversational space in which these processes unfold, and that sociolinguists are but one set of stakeholders in the questions raised by these papers. Taking the notion of “community of practice” as a key window into the exploration of the circulation of ideas in neoliberal spheres, she shows that its popularity in feminist sociolinguistics and in business sectors has to be understood in the same terms. It allows both to foreground agency over reproduction, in ways that can be both liberatory and oppressive, often (but not always) unintentionally and perversely.

We want to build on this to use the papers assembled here to raise the question of what kind of job sociolinguistics might be doing in late capitalism, given that our conditions of work are as affected as anyone else’s, and that we are stakeholders too. McElhinny suggests that one approach we can take is to track the circulation of discourses and practices, taking perhaps better care than we have in the past to situate ourselves in the chains of production and consumption and to see what the consequences are of the workings of those chains for the distribution of resources and for the attribution of value in themselves. Gal suggests a somewhat different approach, one that emphasizes the importance of showing exactly how linguistic ideologies and practices are tied to political economic processes. The other papers here, less explicitly perhaps, adopt elements of both these approaches, asking, for example, what it means for management techniques to be imported into linguistic revitalization (Urla), for measurements of “vitality” to be inserted into linguistic minority politics (Heller and Bell), for ethnolinguistic “authenticity” to be marketized (Del Percio and Duchêne, Pujolar and Jones), or for “linguistic duality” to be erased by hierarchical management (Daveluy).

What all these chapters show us is that the new centrality of language in late capitalism, while apparently empirically supported (and not say “just” a discourse), is not either simply a matter of celebration. It may well make sociolinguistics a sexier discipline than it might have appeared to be in the past, but, as Boutet reminds us, the regulation of language is the regulation of language, whether the idea is to produce silence or regimented talk. Both require disciplining linguistic action, and produce resistances and conformities, disengagements and investments, and uneven material and symbolic profit. There may well be more continuity than rupture than we have thought in the globalized new economy. Nonetheless, we seem to be nearing the limits of linguistic national (or national linguistic) regimes to organize our lives, finding systems breaking up into circulating and artifice breaking down. The papers all point to tensions connected to the difficulty we are having in keeping the old regime going, although it is far from clear what else we might get up to. Language in late capitalism remains a fraught terrain, with high stakes for increasing numbers of players.

NOTES 1. “… développement de biens et de services novateurs et de création d’entreprises et d’emplois qui montrent la valeur ajoutée des francophones et des bilingues de [la région] où l’on reflète leur impact considérable sur la vitalité de la région.” We have replaced the region’s name in order to ensure participants’ anonymity.

Canadian data cited here comes principally from a series of research projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Swiss data come mainly from research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Switzerland). We gratefully acknowledge their support, as well as the contributions of our many co-investigators, research assistants and project participants.


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