Dr Leena Helevaara Robertson

Reconceptualising  and Challenging “Superdiversity” – An Education Setting Responding to Linguistic Complexities

Drawing on migration studies Vertovec (2006; 2009) shows how ‘diversity’ has diversified over the last two decades and uses London as an example of ‘superdiversity’ to refer to a dynamic interplay of variables among an increasing number of multiple-origin, transnationally connected and socio-economically differentiated people who have arrived as migrants in recent years. Blommaert (2010) and Arnaut, Blommaert and Harris (2015), who draw on sociolinguistics, offer the term ‘superdiversity’ as a theoretical lens through which the focus can shift from discussing plurality to addressing complexity.

This paper is based on a case-study of an early years setting in London that can be characterised by mobility, change and complexity. The focus of this one-year long, ethnographic research study was to examine and analyse the support provided for multilingual nursery children and their families and their multilingualism. Staff and families – mostly mothers and grandmothers – were interviewed during the year to hear their views of children growing up multilingually. The teacher also kept a journal for documenting discussions with families.

The paper argues that within the growing recognition of societal superdiversity, there is a danger that this acceptance conceals the lack of diversity in thinking in educational policy and in pedagogical practice in terms of multilingualism. This seems to be true to all phases of education, from early years to higher education. Fishman’s (2004) tensions between macro-level linguistic demands of the host society (that is, learning English) and micro level wishes and hopes of individual learners and their the families (that is, learning English and keeping home languages alive) can still be seen as opposing, binary forces. Rather than complementary, dialectical forces. During the year the case-study families and the teacher were pushed into a choice of letting home languages begin to fade away; a choice that they should not have needed to make..

Superdiversity needs a reconceptualisation to include a recognition of ideologies and structures that are used to legitimate monolingualising policies and practice.


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