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Language Policies Beyond the State?

Decentering the State: Globalization, Migration, Regionalism

Multiple developments—including the globalizing economy, migration, and regionalization—work to decenter the contemporary state and shift the boundaries of language policy development and appropriation beyond state borders. First, globalization as “a set of processes by which the world is rapidly being integrated into one economic space via increased international trade, the internationalization of production and financial markets, the internationalization of a commodity culture promoted by an increasingly networked global telecommunications system” (Gibson-Graham 2006, 120) foregrounds the market and transnational corporations (TNCs) as primary actors alongside of or marginalizing the state in several spheres including language policy. Serving, creating, contesting and participating in transborder entities like companies and universities (Jenkins 2014; Phillipson 2015) helps to create particular language needs, priorities, and interactions.

Another defining feature of globalization leads to the second decentering force— migration. The voluntary and forced[1] transnational mobility of people, ideas, and money generate new, sometimes hybrid, ideas of belonging, identity, and possibility, while shaping language choice, need, affiliation, and understanding. For example, the expanded possibilities to be educated and work within the EU, but beyond the borders of Estonia, in large part depend on a migrant’s language skills typically beyond the major home languages of Estonia. The pan-European migration crisis today also demonstrates how forces and changed political agendas beyond the state affect language ideologies and views on language policy related issues.

Finally, the third decentering force—regionalization, “which binds states—that are usually contiguous—together through their voluntary derogation of sovereign rights into a collective economic endeavor” (Joffe 2007, xiv), creates alternative centers (to the state) of power and pressure over language policy. Studying language policies beyond the state highlights the issue of agency and resources—i.e. attempts to change or reinforce linguistic behavior of oneself and others and the power of reasoning to justify a certain linguistic behavior. The possibility for political agency is framed in different discourses and contexts and can be found in speech communities, among institutions, organizations, families and groups of individuals. Investigating LPP beyond the state focuses on efforts to detect the different policy agents and analyze their attempts for agency.

  • [1] Migration during times of war and crisis also shapes language policy, which can be found, amongmany examples, in historical research on the role of language in Displaced Persons’ camps and therole of voluntary societies sustaining Estonian in receiving countries after WWII.
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