Communicative Practices at Work: Multimodality and Learning in a High-Tech Firm

Author: Jo Anne Kleifgen

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Multilingual Matters
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This book examines communicative practices in a circuit-board manufacturing plant in California's Silicon Valley, where the employees come from diverse ethnolinguistic backgrounds, their activities involve the use of high-tech equipment and their practices are shaped by, and sometimes contest, local and global forces. Analyses of the data show that learning occurs optimally when workers make strategic use of both their home languages and English within an ecology of semiotic systems. The book demonstrates the importance of accounting for multilingual practices in studies of multimodality. Through detailed ethnography it brings the reader to a better understanding of learning-in-practice in work environments, where the complexities and accelerated growth of new technologies along with a globalized world produce new forms of multilingual and multimodal communication.

This book offers a view of the exquisite complexity of the linguistic and interactional activities that create the mundane world of everyday work. Kleifgen crafts her analysis of multilingualism and multimodality in a high-tech workplace with the same care, precision and creativity as her subjects craft their circuit boards. It will stand as a landmark study for the fields of language in the workplace, workplace ethnography, and informal learning.

In this brilliant and engaging study, Kleifgen does what few scholars of language and learning have done: show us how multiple languages and modes interact within a technology production site. With an ethnographic perspective, she provides a penetrating analysis of communication adaptivity in the fast-paced production of technological products.

Educators interested in getting a deeper sense of the challenges and the rich range of opportunities that a multicultural setting provides, as well as linguists with particular interest in mutlimodality in high tech environments, will find in this book an enlightening contribution. Kleiifgen's research, theoretical framework, and thought provoking contributions to discourse anaylisis theories invites the audience to reflect on their own institutional settings and how literacy practices and linguistic choices are managed towards better performances.

Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 46.1

Jo Anne Kleifgen is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, USA. Her publications include Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Language Learners (with Ofelia García; Teachers College Press, 2010) and Languages of Africa and the Diaspora: Educating for Language Awareness (with George C. Bond; Multilingual Matters, 2009).


1. Introduction: Theorizing Communicative Practices at Work

2. Genesis, Inc. and Its People

3. Multimodal Interaction on the Assembly Floor

4. Doing Social Work: Power Relations in Interaction

5. Globalizing Forces and Quality Control Certification

6. Learning-in-Practice

7. Conclusion: Towards a Comprehensive Understanding of Communicative Practices at Work

Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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