Changing Forms of Knowledge Production in Late Capitalism: Language as a Contested Terrain

Bonnie McElhinney
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Toronto

This paper examines the effects on knowledge production about language of changes which some argue were triggered by the oil crisis of the early 1970s, and which are usually understood as being institutionalized by the adoption of neoliberal policies by First World states in the 1980s. These changes can be understood as a crisis of capitalism, as its continuing expansion overflows the regulatory possibilities of the nation-state. The emergent globalized new economy puts a new emphasis on language, as a means to manage globalized networks of production and consumption as well as a source of symbolic added value, useful in its own right in the context of the development of niche markets and hyper-developed modes of cultural distinction. These shifts destabilize possibilities for reproducing heretofore dominant ideologies of language as a whole, bounded system, connected to, but distinct from, other arenas of social life and social practice. Broadscale social transformations from Fordist to post-Fordist formations are linked with transformations in understandings of nation, community, family, individual and desire, all of which have implications for understandings of language study and language study. This paper will consider how understandings of language as a skill (rather than an identity), the rise of communities of practice as an analytic, and queer linguistics can all be linked to these changing economic formations.