From ‘language learning as the key to integration’ to ‘language learning for enriching solidarities in diversity’
ThisESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship builds on and develops my doctoral work which ethnographically investigated the politics, practice, and lived experience of migrant language education and argued for the need to reimagine this field of policy and practice from the bottom up. My ongoing research sits against the backdrop of prominent discourses that emphasise the learning of English as a marker of, or key to, integration at a time of increased hostility towards people who appear to be different and hardening attitudes towards immigration. My doctoral project showed the mismatch between top-down discourses and imaginations of migrant integration and the reality on the ground in the context of increased migration-driven diversity intersecting with entrenched forms of inequality and complex hierarchies of belonging – especially within the migrant city London.
My new fellowship is a timely opportunity to reflect on how ‘language learning for integration’ has become a platform for processes of pathologizing, Othering, hierarchising, and dehumanising – often giving way to the reproduction of inequalities and exclusionary mechanisms rather than leading to inclusion and cohesion and how this impacts the lived experience of migrants. Beyond that, a central aim of this project is to highlight how these dynamics that are animated from the top down are counteracted from the bottom up and to foreground the potential to leverage migrant language educational spaces as a catalyst for alternative and dynamic forms of solidarity.
The question here is how these settings can harness the forging of solidarities under conditions of increasing diversity and be places of learning, belonging and a supportive sociality for the building of more equitable and inclusive futures. During this fellowship these themes will be explored more through a collaborative research project utilising participatory photography/photovoice with adult migrants who have come to London to set up a new life and are learning English to facilitate this process.
Silke is an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow based at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Social Research Institute at UCL IOE, which she joined in October 2021 after completing her AHRC-funded PhD at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She is interested in the lived experience of migrants in London and her interdisciplinary research is situated at the nexus of migration, urban multiculture and diversity, inequality, integration and language/language learning – particularly in the context of the global city and postcolonial migrant metropolis. From a methodological perspective, her work is committed to and centred around ethnography, participatory and collaborative approaches, and the coproduction of knowledge.
Silke’s academic background combines degrees in social sciences and applied linguistics/second language education. She received a commendation from the British Council Master’s Dissertation Award with Best Potential for Impact on ELT for her MPhil thesis which investigated migrants’ experience of class and struggles for value and values highlighting the potential transformative impact of the language classroom. Previously, she has worked with migrants in an advisory service for the City of Berlin and has taught English to migrants in London for several years. From May to September 2021, she was a Research Fellow on the Connected Communities research and knowledge exchange initiative.
Her recent publications include Reimagining migrant language education from the bottom up: an ethnographic study and ‘Language is Your Dignity’: Migration, Linguistic Capital, and the Experience of Re/De-Valuation
Language Learning Blog
‘Integration - I think I’m very good with it, I think,’ Ana, one of the participants of my ethnographic research into migrant language education (Zschomler 2020), exclaimed enthusiastically. We were just about to finish a more in-depth interview during which she had...