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Being German versus doing German: How pre-sojourn learners of German in Jordan construct and subvert ethnic identity through knowledge displays

  • Author / Creator
    Feddersen, Richard
  • This study examines how knowledge displays reflect the way students of German at a university in Jordan position themselves vis-à-vis German identity in the semester prior to studying abroad. It may be tempting to assume that language learners desire some degree of target culture membership, but that is often neither true nor feasible. I investigate this by examining the strategies students use to express their knowledge of Germany and the German language, when and how they position themselves as novices or experts, and if and how they draw lines between categories such as “German” and “Jordanian”. Previous research on learner identities in study abroad contexts has primarily focused on white and typically American learners, or learners in white and Global North contexts. My study therefore contributes to the diversification of perspectives in study abroad research: The Arab student participants expected to face discrimination and prejudices in Germany, and even pre-sojourn they made plans to censor themselves, for example, by not using Arabic in public. They did not expect to play with aspects of German identity the way white sojourners from the Global North may.
    Drawing on a constructivist understanding of identity and using an analytic framework that integrates Interactional Sociolinguistics, Membership Categorization Analysis, and Positioning Theory, I examine interviews with five architecture and design students in Jordan who are about to depart to Germany. I show that the participants make a clear “us” versus “them” ethnic distinction and locate themselves outside of the category “German”. However, their increasing proficiency in German and their knowledge of Germany allow them to claim expertise regarding Germany, which enables them to subvert the otherwise strict distinction between “us” and “them” in an ethnic sense. In other words, instead of being German or seeking to become German, they are doing German as part of their identity as well-educated and internationally-minded young Arabs.
    The findings have implications for how we prepare students for studying abroad. Refraining from judgement, inviting participation, and acknowledging the students’ knowledge may certainly help learners gain confidence in their growing expertise. It is also important to understand the possible identities learners think they can assume and their desires and goals pertaining to language learning. Furthermore, we need to critically examine how language and culture(s), speakerhood and membership criteria are portrayed in the educational material to which we subject learners. Finally, a serious consideration of student fears concerning discriminatory study abroad experiences means providing them with resources and measures for empowerment and resilience.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-6qqz-qf89
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.