Heritage speaker educational identity as a complex dynamic system: A grounded theory

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This dissertation introduces the construct of heritage speaker educational identity, conceptualizes it through constructivist grounded theory methodology, and connects it to theories of chaos and complex dynamic systems for explanatory purposes and theoretical anchoring. My goal is threefold: first, (i) to provide a clear picture of heritage speaker educational identity, its structural configuration and its workings as an integrated system, (ii) to situate the construct within an interdisciplinary body of literature in order to stimulate transdisciplinary dialogue, and (iii) to provide researchers and practitioners in the field of heritage language education with a blueprint of how heritage language education fits the biographies of heritage speakers, their past experiences and their imagined/future selves. To that end, 131 hours of qualitative data were collected from a pool of 103 pre-pubescent (i.e., 8-11) and late-adolescent (i.e., 18 – 24) heritage speakers of Spanish living in the US Southwest by means of ethnographic classroom observations; audio recordings of classroom interactions; individual reflection papers; individual interviews; focus group interviews; and a battery of in-class activities. Further, curricular analyses and interviews with members of the educational system (e.g., program director, school principal, teachers, and instructors) were conducted throughout a two-semester period. The heritage speaker educational identity model introduced herein is presented as a metaconstruct that spreads across 4 domains (i.e., linguistic/literacy; professional/educational; emotional/psychological; social/cultural). Each of these domains has its own internal structures, as well as interfaces connecting them across a psychosocial spectrum. Fundamentally, these domains and their components, are linked through relationships of inter-mutuality, feeding into one another, and reacting ecologically to systemic synergies. Further, the model captures and integrates previously undiscussed factors (e.g., emotional intelligence, cognitive schemas) and illustrates the constitutive relationship between subjects and contextual elements (e.g., classroom language policies). The model explicates how heritage speaker educational identity does not emerge from the addition of its internal components solely, but as a result of activity at their interfaces, behaving as a complex dynamic system that evolves over time. The implications of this study emerge at three levels: the theoretical level, the practical level, and the methodological level. At the theoretical level, I argue that current arguments on “de-essentializing” the heritage speaker experience must be followed by a paradigmatic change beyond metaphorical adoptions of poststructuralist perspectives. At that level, I propose notions of chaos and complexity to explain how moving away from essentializations may be articulated. Regarding pedagogical praxis, this model charts the behaviors of identity work, illustrating how a universal approach is counterproductive. This model provides a bedrock to design strategies that foster forms of “identity education” for heritage speakers. At the methodological level, I argue that importing theories from neighboring disciplines (most notably foreign language education and second language acquisition) when exploring the identities of heritage speakers limits the scope of our findings to those aspects that fit the foreign and second language learner experience, perpetuating a similarities vs. differences approach, which I refer to as the comparativist tradition in heritage language studies. I challenge this perspective by articulating a bottom-up approach on identity work, positing that this angle stimulates data-driven conceptualizations as opposed to theory-driven readings of data-sets.

Heritage speakers, Educational identity, Bilingualism, Chaos theory, Complex systems, Grounded theory