Language factories: Cape Town, Kinshasa, Abidjan, Brussels (completed)

Karel Arnaut

In general terms, the Language Factories project consists in situating linguistics practices within a metanarrative of globalization and communicative praxis/poiesis in order to engage with the complexity of contemporary sociolinguistic super-diversity. To that end empirical as well as methodological and theoretical research is conducted which addresses processes of semiosis in contexts characterized by ever increasing (unequal) mobility (circulation, interaction), connectivity (networking, belonging), and intricate mediation. The overall challenge of Language Factories consists in exploring how people use linguistic and, more generally, semiotic resources in order to reproduce, resist or rearrange existing or emerging patterns of diversity in dynamic interactive contexts such as learning, labour, socialisation, play, every day or ‘high’ performance, etc.
Patterns of diversity can be argued to gain complexity and unpredictability through on-going transnational exchange. The migration flows and the use of new information and communication technologies which constitute the latter, reach exceptional density and multi-layeredness in urban contexts, such as that of Cape Town, Kinshasa, Abidjan, and Brussels. First, the emphasis on globalization entails a general interest in the multiscalarity, the spatial, glocal character, of these cities, not only within a national-international framework but also within a world network of cities (in and outside the African continent). Second, the four cities’ history tallies in with super-diversity’s global chronology – marking the early 1990s as a watershed moment – and consists of (a) the transition to a more democratic system (Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa and later DRCongo) or new geographical- communitarian repartitions (Belgium), (b) regime changes and/or new types of identity politics, post-national imaginings, and conflicts, and (c) new migration flows in and out of the four cities either related to changed national and geopolitical configurations, and new local and global neo-liberal dynamics. A central concern of the Language Factories project is the ways in which these cities participate in overlapping, parallel or interconnected sociolinguistic processes.

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