Positioning the Language Policy Arbiter: Governmentality and Footing in the School District of Philadelphia
Research in language planning and policy (LPP) has progressed from work that examined the steps in national language planning (Fishman, 1979; Haugen,
1983) to critical conceptualizations that emphasize the power of language policies to marginalize linguistic minorities and minority language education. Planning Language, Planning Inequality (Tollefson, 1991) represented a paradigmatic shift in the field (then predominately referred to as “language planning”) by challenging the notion that language planning was ever apolitical. Instead, Tollefson proposed the historical-structural approach to LPP research, which foregrounds the power of language policies to promote the interests of dominant social groups, marginalize minority languages and users, and perpetuate social inequality. As proposed and articulated in subsequent publications (e.g., Martin-Jones & Heller, 1996; Tollefson, 2002, 2006; Watson-Gegeo & Gegeo, 1995), critical language policy (CLP): (1) eschews apolitical LPP approaches and instead acknowledges that “policies often create and sustain various forms of social inequality,” and that “policy-makers usually promote the interests of dominant social groups” (Tollefson, 2006, p. 42); (2) seeks to develop more democratic policies that reduce inequality and promote the maintenance of minority languages; and (3) is influenced by critical theory. In its earlier stages, the field of LPP was dominated by macro-level theories and models, which led to calls for more on-the-ground data about language policy implementation (Davis, 1999; Ricento & Hornberger, 1996) and to specific case studies (e.g., Cincotta-Segi, 2011; Hornberger & Johnson, 2007; Hult, 2004; Johnson, 2010b; Menken, 2008; Stritikus & Wiese, 2006). Findings from around the globe suggest that national language policies can and do restrict multilingual education and marginalize language minorities and minority language education (Olson, 2007), either because they are overtly restrictive or because measures within the policy, like a heavy emphasis on testing, lead to a de facto push for monolingual education (Menken, 2008; Shohamy, 2006). On the other hand, national multilingual language policies can and do open spaces for multilingual education and minority language development (Hornberger, 1998, 2009). Nevertheless, the relationship between macro language policy and social practice is neither linear nor predictable. For one thing, national language policies are not necessarily ideologically consistent and may be characterized by divergent, even contradictory, ideas about language use and education; moreover, analyses of the policy language alone may not accurately predict their interpretation and appropriation (Jaffe, 2011; Johnson, 2009). As Hornberger (2009) points out, a national policy may fail if local support is lacking. For example, national policies that promote multilingualism and linguistic pluralism might not be able to overcome dominant societal discourses that favor particular (especially colonial) languages, monolingual education, or prescriptive and outdated language instruction (Bekerman, 2005; de los Heros, 2009; McKay & Chick, 2001). On the other hand, the de jure aims of monolingual, top-down language policies do not necessarily translate into practice either; educators can pry open implementational and ideological spaces that incorporate minority
languages, even within the confines of restrictive language policies (Hornberger & Vaish, 2008; Johnson, 2010a; Stritikus & Wiese, 2006). Thus, Menken (2008, p. 5) argues that teachers are the final “arbiters” of language policy implementation, and Menken and García (2010) offer many examples of teachers as policymakers. Hornberger and Johnson (2007) propose the ethnography of language policy (ELP) as a method meant to capture multiple language policy processes (creation, interpretation, and appropriation) across multiple contexts (from the macro to the micro) and, especially, the agency of language policy agents within these processes (Johnson, 2009). Despite the criticism of CLP that it overemphasizes macro-level language policy and therefore underemphasizes the power and agency of language policy actors (Davis, 1999; Ricento & Hornberger, 1996), ethnographic approaches and CLP are not mutually exclusive: Both are committed to resisting dominant policy discourses that subjugate minority languages and their users. Further, when combined, these approaches offer an important balance between structure and agency – between a critical focus on the power of language policies and an ethnographic understanding of the agency of language policy actors.