Category Archives: development

Assimilation – in the 21st century?

What does “assimilation” (in its socio-cultural sense) really mean in an age of globalization, easy digital communication, international integration, migration, and recently in the wake of recrudescent nationalisms?

Source: “The Forced Assimilation of Native Americans,” Gwich’in Steering Committee

On a vary basic level, we know that assimilation refers to a process by which individuals of a more or less distinct group (perhaps indigenous, immigrant, or formerly enslaved) are integrated or subsumed – willingly or by force – into the identity of a larger society or dominant culture. As such it has long been a goal of many plural states, and also of many immigrant groups settling in different countries.

Beyond that, the meaning of the term seems to be assumed without much clarity as to what the implications are.

Many questions

The initial question gives rise to others. For example, what are the issues/differences of assimilation as national policy, as socio-cultural process, and as personal or community aspiration? Are there different kinds or degrees of assimilation at each level?

Does assimilation necessarily require sacrifice of identities? Who decides whether or not that is the case, and what is sacrificed?

Is some kind of assimilation necessary for full participation in a society? Is equal status conditioned on type/degree of assimilation? If so, at what point – if ever – might it confer status and rights equivalent to those of the rest of society?

Considering the racist and nativist streaks in at least some nationalisms, do their definitions of assimilation exclude some peoples a priori? What is the relationship between assimilationism and racism (recognizing that there have been different treatments of various racial, ethnic, and religious minorities)?

Example of racist imagery associated with assimilationism. Source: “Chinese Immigration in the Late 19th Century: Discrimination in Action – Assimilation,” LEADR, MSU.edu

What is the burden shouldered by willingly assimilating? Or the cost imposed on individuals, communities, and cultures by assimilationist policies?

What are the benefits and costs of assimilation to the society as a whole?

What do other related terms like “acculturation” and “integration” (in its socio-cultural sense) mean in this context, and how are they different? Such terms would seem essential for fuller understanding of, and clearer discussion about “assimilation.”

Assimilation 2.0?

These questions in turn bring up other issues, such as:

Does it make any sense to talk of assimilation as we advance into the 21st century? If so, how and in what ways? If not, is there another term/concept that is more appropriate and productive for the changing realities that peoples and nations are living today?

Are we now defining an “Assimilation 2.0”? Or perhaps more fortuitously, new ways of thinking about how diverse peoples come to live together in peace, and with mutual respect and amity?

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The text of this post is adapted from the description of an email list with the same title that I ran in the mid 2000s.

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Symposium on multilingualism in international organizations & cooperation, 10-11 May 2018

Taking the opportunity again this year to publicize the latest in a series of annual symposia in New York on language issues in international contexts. The last two dealt with language(s) and the Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s edition, to be held on 10-11 May 2018, has as its title, Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation.” It is sponsored by the Study Group on Language and the United Nations in cooperation with The Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Birkbeck, University of London.

The organizers’ description of the event, and their preliminary program follow (the content is theirs; although not connected with the event or any of its sponsors, I’ve taken the opportunity to present this information with added links such as I could find – please advise if any should be replaced):


Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation

Thursday & Friday, May 10-11, 2018, at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (First Ave. at 44th St.)

Multilingualism in international co-operation entails both costs and benefits: costs because it requires mechanisms such as the selection of multilingual staff and the mediation of language professionals; benefits because, if properly managed, it includes all parties to decision-making, promotes consensus, supports programme delivery, and aids dissemination of results. Thus it favours social justice and inclusion. Increasingly, multilingualism is seen as a positive force, though it is not always recognized as such by all stakeholders.

Within the United Nations, for example, owing in particular to the scarcity of available data, advocates of multilingual language policies often face ideological, financial and administrative resistance, despite a growing recognition that multilingualism, as a core value of the UN, is a potential source of strength.

This symposium seeks to focus on, and generate interest in, these issues. Contributorscription will address the challenges of supporting multilingualism in organizations and in sites of international co-operation across different sectors (e.g. business, diplomacy, economics) and communities. Included will be theoretical and methodological studies, on the one hand, and studies addressing specific practical challenges, on the other – especially papers that focus directly on the work of the UN system or other international bodies, or research having obvious implications for their work.

Among the themes that we hope to address are the following:

  • evolving perceptions of multilingualism in international settings
  • linguistic inclusiveness in multilingual settings
  • interpretation and translation in international organizations
  • speed of decision-making vs. information loss in monolingual contexts
  • language in international peace-keeping
  • language and human/minority rights
  • the economics of language regimes
  • linguistic equity in organizations
  • inclusive communication in local and international development
  • language policy in international organizations
  • language and sustainability
  • multilingualism and NGOs

PRELIMINARY PROGRAM (as of April 4)
Speakers will include:

Keynote speaker:

Michele Gazzola, Research Fellow, Humboldt University, Berlin
The economic effects of language regimes: The case of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office

Papers and presentations will include:

John Edwards (St Francis Xavier University and Dalhousie University, Canada)
Language claims & language rights

Timothy Reagan (University of Maine, USA)
Sign language multilingualism: The forgotten language diversity in disempowered communities

Emma Asonye (University of Mexico), Ezinne Emma-Asonye (University of Mexico), Queenette Okwaraji (University of Rochester, USA) and Khadijah Asili (Vizionz-Sankofa)
Linguistic diversity and the language rights of the underprivileged population in Africa and America: Towards an inclusive society in 2030

Nirvana Bhatia (Linguistic Rights Specialist)
The paper chase: A review of the UN’s recent language-rights legislation

Phindile Dlamini (University of Swaziland)
Swaziland’s dream of linguistic representation in international organisations: Will the sociolinguistic map of the United Nations ever change?

Maneeratana Sawasdiwat Na Ayutthaya (ASEAN Center for Multilingualism, Translation & Interpretation, Thailand)
Multilingualism, translation and interpretation in the ASEAN Community

Leigh Swigart (Brandeis University, USA)
English at the International Criminal Court: Working language or default language?

Beatrice Owiti (Kenya Methodist University)
Interpretation and translation in the International Criminal Court

Lisa McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), Michele Gazzola and Torsten Templin (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)
Measuring diversity in multilingual communication

Francis M. Hult (Lund University, Sweden)
Parallel language use: A Nordic solution for multilingual organisations?

Dorte Lønsmann (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) & Janus Mortensen (University of Copenhagen)
English only? A critical examination of the ‘natural’ status of English as a corporate language

Spencer Hazel (Newcastle University, UK), Katherine Kappa and Kamilla Kraft (University of Copenhagen)
Language policing in international organisations: Explicit and embedded orientations to language repertoires and their impact on professional identity

Pia Decarsin (JPD Systems Translation Services)
Language policy in international organisations: Criteria and recommendations for strategic content selection for translation

Mirna Soares Andrade (Inter-American Defense College, Washington, D.C.)
Multilingualism and language services at the Inter-American Defense College

Shana Pughe Dean (Tone Translate, Utica, NY, USA))
Creating opportunity and understanding in a multicultural world on the move: Refugee resettlement agencies

Carol Benson (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
The importance of a multilingual habitus when assessing literacy skills in educational development

Erina Iwasaki (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
Reframing multilingualism in terms of opportunity

Ari Sherris (Texas A & M University-Kingsville, Texas, USA) & Joy Kreeft Peyton (Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.)
The power of multilingualism and multiliteracy for languages and groups

Additional information and registration at http://www.languageandtheun.org


For information, below are links to posts on this blog regarding the 2016 and 2017 events:

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Concluding 2017, looking forward to 2018

This year has been one of some personal transitions, hence less posting on this blog than originally planned. As 2017 comes to a close, I wanted to touch on a couple of topics among several related to the blog content.

IY2017First, 2017 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Usually I try to get out quick mentions of such observances early in the year, but this time had planned a longer treatment mentioning two places I know in different ways – Djenné, Mali and Lijiang, Yunnan, China. That material will have to come out later in different form. However the topic of this year will remain important even as the calendar changes.

Early in the year, I posted several “why are we doing this?” (WAWDT) questions about policies that seemed ill-considered. That is, beyond the level of agreement or disagreement on particulars, but questions about the soundness of decisions from whatever viewpoint. Very quickly it became apparent that any attempt to continue such inquiries would become all-consuming. That in itself is a comment. In any event, I’m not planning any further WAWDTs for now.

Looking forward to a productive 2018, and sharing ideas and information here on Multidisciplinary Perspectives.

 

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CFP: Language and Development 2017

The 12th biennial Language and Development Conference (LDC) will be held in Dakar, Senegal, on 27-29 November 2017. The call for participation (CFP) deadline has been extended to 31 May (apologies as I’m just catching up on this).

The theme of this edition of the conference is: Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.

From the concept note for the conference (emphasis in original):
“Sustainable development is increasingly viewed not only from an economic perspective, but also from social and environmental perspectives. All three dimensions are important to ensure that human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality. As language and communication are crucial to how societies grow, work together and become more inclusive, the conference will seek to explore the role of language in a range of interlinking aspects of development. It will do this by focussing on three of the goals:

  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
  • SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • SDG 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies”

“The conference programme will also take into consideration other cross cutting goals, notably SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.”

The conference has 3 sub-themes:

  • Multilingualism for Quality, Equitable and Inclusive Education
  • Language, Skills and Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Communication, Peace and Justice

The British Council is hosting this conference (it apparently has been involved in almost all the previous ones), in partnership with le Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche et le Ministère de l’Education Nationale du Sénégal, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), UNESCO, the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS) and SIL Africa, along with others.

For additional information, see the website of the LDC series, and a posting on this blog about the 2015 LDC.

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“Security triangle” without the triangle

Having in the previous posting referenced the security triangle used in development and humanitarian work, I thought it would be worth taking another look at the concept. As I mentioned, the three elements in this model are (with brief definitions I adapted from other sources):

  • Acceptance: Reduce the threat by fostering acceptance and positive image in the community.
  • Protection: Reduce the risk (but not the threat) by addressing vulnerabilities – hardening the target.
  • Deterrence: Counter the threat through reliance on appropriate and legitimate force.

As I also mentioned, this model represented new thinking when it came onto the scene around the turn of the millennium – a way to reframe the traditional approach or posture of aid work – “acceptance” (and a range of positive human and community relations) – and bring in practical dimensions that were always in the background but imposing themselves to varying degrees in different work environments – “protection” (which may previously be limited to bars on the windows and locking doors to deter theives) and “deterrence” (a last resort).

Having been away from scenarios where this model was discussed, I hadn’t been aware that the triangle itself, as a way of presenting these 3 factors – which are still the basis of discussion for security in aid work – was downplayed. “Downplayed” is my term reading the Humanitarian Practice Network’s (HPN) 2010 revised edition of the Operational Security Management in Violent Environments (GPR8). HPN’s webpage about the report actually uses the word “abandoned.”

So what was the problem?

The below diagram, from a 2011 post entitled “SSOS – A Concept to Mitigate the NGO Security Dilemma” illustrates, I think, the kind of issue that GPR8 had with the triangle – that is seeing the 3 key factors in security in terms of trade-offs.

Source: Track24 Solo blog

The details of the SSOS approach illustrated in the diagram are not the issue – the question is whether and to what degree a security strategy sits in one place or can shift reliance on the different factors as implied by this kind of diagram. Which might be compared to a very different use of a triangle with three elements that indeed are in trade-off relationships: a soil texture diagram:

Source: Richard Harwood, Black Hawk College

Sand, clay, and silt are physical substances in soil that exist in different proportions with the result being different soil textures (there are more complicated versions of this diagram). So you can have a soil like sandy clay loam, which apparently has 74-80% sand and 20-35% clay. But an analogous breakdown of emphases on different security factors would be hard to imagine (protectiony acceptance safety?).

So the way I understand the current GPR8 thinking, one can accent more than one factor in different ways at the same time. Can one emphasize acceptance in a security strategy while approaching protection in a way that is effective, but relatively unobtrusive from the community point of view?

Even the SSOS example I cite can be interpreted in that way when it suggests using technology in the form of a “low profile tracking device” with a vehicle or team to effectively bring deterrence into the equation while not displaying it in the immediate picture.

In other words, the three elements of a security strategy are not mutually exclusive, as a 2015 discussion of “Acceptance strategies in conflict” also points out.

It is also worth reiterating GPR8’s observation mentioned in the previous post that acceptance turns out to be the most important factor in security for development and humanitarian work, even as protection and deterrence are recognized as also being essential.

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CFP: Language, the SDGs, and Vulnerable Populations

SDG logoThe Study Group on Language at the United Nations, in cooperation with the Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems and the Center for Applied Linguistics, will again this year hold a two-day symposium (11-12 May 2017) on language and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I reproduce below the call for participation (CFP) based on versions seen on the Language Policy List and Linguist List. The contact person is Prof. Humphrey Tonkin. Note the call deadline of 28 February.

This blog previously featured the CFP for the April 2016 Language & SDGs symposium and its program. The Final Report of that symposium is available on the Study Group’s site.


Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations

New York, NY, USA • Thursday-Friday, May 11-12, 2017

What issues of language and communication are raised, or should be raised, by the efforts of the United Nations to reach the most vulnerable populations through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN in 2015? Particular attention will be given to language issues surrounding refugees and their children, migrants, and minority communities.

When the UN General Assembly unanimously approved the 17 SDGs 2015-2030, proponents foresaw a comprehensive and cooperative effort extending beyond the United Nations and its Member States to incorporate civil society in general. The SDGs, they said, should “leave no one behind” and should emerge from a dialogue in which all parties collaborate in a spirit of equality. Moreover, the most vulnerable populations need to be first on the agenda.

These vulnerable populations speak a multiplicity of languages often little understood by development specialists, and they are often isolated or neglected, and unconnected to those who seek to help. Reaching them requires reaching across languages, and it implies listening to their concerns, freely expressed. Is the UN ready for such an effort? Though the SDGs are largely silent on language issues, sustainability requires two-way, democratic communication in multiple languages.

The world is witnessing the largest population movement since World War II: refugees who must be returned to their homes or resettled, displaced children who need education, migrants who must acquire new languages to become productive in new circumstances. In negotiating their way in foreign environments, they must deal with officials who often do not know their languages. The SDGs identify problems but say little about reaching these populations.

To carry out the SDGs through dialogue and understanding, we must reach vulnerable populations in languages they understand. Preserving cultural identity while communicating across languages must become a recognized issue: we must educate through languages young people understand, deliver health care comprehensibly, and reach refugees and migrants through comprehensible dialogue. Attaining all seventeen SDGs requires mutual comprehension at every level.

The Study Group on Language and the UN drew attention to the absence of language issues in formulating the SDGs through a symposium it organized in April 2016 and a subsequent report. We return to this topic in our 2017 symposium, but with special stress on vulnerable populations.

The organizers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers on topics linking the SDGs with vulnerable populations, such as:

  • Language as a factor in sustainable development
  • Language policy for refugees, migrants, and displaced populations
  • Language & migration
  • Language as it relates to race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, economic status, or other factors
  • Language & education of refugees and migrants
  • Language & quality education for vulnerable populations (Goal 4)
  • Language & mother-tongue education (Goal 4)
  • Language & gender equality (Goal 5)
  • Language & economic growth (Goal 8)
  • Language & reducing inequalities (Goal 10)
  • Language & peace & justice (Goal 16)
  • NGOs, language & vulnerable populations
  • UN language policy & implementation of the SDGs
  • The role of regional or minority languages
  • Language & stateless nations

Please send proposals (200 words or less, accompanied by a biography of approximately 50 words) to the chair of the symposium organizing committee, Prof. Humphrey Tonkin, at tonkin (at) hartford (dot) edu, by February 28, 2017.  The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by March 15.

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