Contesting cultural communities: language, ethnicity and citizenship in Britain

Alexander, Claire, Edwards, Rosalind and Temple, Bogusia (2007) Contesting cultural communities: language, ethnicity and citizenship in Britain. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33 (5). pp. 783-800. ISSN 1369-183X

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In recent years, the Home Office has adopted a reinvigorated policy of citizenship education and integration towards both new immigrants and settled minority ethnic communities. One of the cornerstones of this new policy is English language, which is seen as a key tool for the successful integration of Britain's diverse communities. This paper is divided into two parts. Firstly, it explores the changing role of English language in the current debates around citizenship, nationhood and belonging. It argues that English language is used symbolically as a cultural boundary marker, which both defines minority ethnic ‘communities’ and excludes them from the re-imagined national ‘community’. Secondly, using empirical research from a recent study on ‘Access to Services with Interpreters’, the paper seeks to challenge the reification of national and minority versions of ‘community’ that lies at the heart of current discourses around nation and citizenship. Taking language as a key symbol of ‘community’, the paper explores the complex contours through which individual, familial, local and collective identities are lived. It concludes that minority ethnic ‘communities’ are best understood as arising out of systems of localised ‘personal’ networks which challenge reified and abstract ideas of ‘imagined communities’ and provide insights into the performance of citizenship and belonging ‘from below’.

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