Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy

Author: Mark Fifer Seilhamer

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Multilingual Matters
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This book presents the narratives of four Taiwanese young women, all proficient in English, set against the background of the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan. It chronicles their strategies and struggles when utilizing cultural goods – in this case their linguistic resources – to differentiate themselves within Taiwanese society. The study provides a uniquely bottom-up perspective by focusing intently on just four focal participants, in order to gain an in-depth understanding of how the intersection of socioeconomic status, age and gender shape their identities, experiences and practices. The book highlights the impact of neoliberalism on the women's attempts at distinction and is a timely contribution to debates on multilingualism and issues of gender and socioeconomic status.

Learning global languages compels learners to thrive in today's neoliberal society. It also brings emotional struggles, desires, and ambitions, forming an integral part of learner identity and life trajectory. Mark Seilhamer achieves distinction by vividly narrating the life stories of four young women at a prestigious junior college in Taiwan.

Ryuko Kubota, University of British Columbia, Canada

Four affectionate portraits of young Taiwanese women lie at the heart of this warm-hearted yet incisive ethnography of identity, distinction, and language learning. The intimately narrated dreams, struggles, and accomplishments of these women as they travel towards adulthood in globalizing Taiwan offer a much-needed human face to the theory of language as symbolic capital.

Joseph Sung-Yul Park, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's notion of distinction, Seilhamer masterfully takes his readers through the distinction-making processes of four young Taiwanese women situated at the intersection of gender and social class. Their narratives of strategy and struggle in pursuit of linguistic resources are an apt reminder of how language indexes power and stratifies individuals in a neoliberal world.

Peter De Costa, Michigan State University, USA

[This book] delivers in-depth individual narratives of the life trajectories of four young Taiwanese women, all of
whom have strived to achieve distinction at least partly by cultivating linguistic skills and multilingual selves before, during, and after their studies at a junior college specializing in foreign languages.

Language in Society 50 (2021)

Mark Fifer Seilhamer is a Lecturer in the English Language and Literature Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research interests include language and identity, language attitudes and ideologies, and language planning and policy.

Ch 1.   Introducing Distinction                        

Ch 2.   Processes Involved in Achieving Distinction

Ch 3.   Neoliberalism and English in Taiwan

Ch 4.   Narrative and its Use in this Study

Ch 5.   The Intellectual – Gigi's Story

Ch 6.   The Social Butterfly – Audrey's Story

Ch 7.   The Ideal Neoliberal Subject – Rachel's Story                       

Ch 8.   The Competitor – Shannon's Story

Ch 9.   Cross-Participant Analysis and Conclusions

Ch 10. Postscript: Where are they now?


Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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