Research in both the anthropology and sociology of education has increasingly come to consider the institutional effects of migration, globalization, and transnationalism on learning environments. Yet, most studies examining transmigration and education have only looked at migrant children in schools rather than at the transitions they undergo as transnationals across settings. We know little of the linguistic and socializing practices that occur during migrants’ transitions from place to place and how they come to define the migratory and educational experience for transnational children.
This multi-sited, global ethnography examines language socialization practices and linguistic ideologies among families of Israeli emissaries ( shlichim) employed by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). The study documented the transitions undergone by families with school-age children in the months of their preparation for their move from Israel to the United States and during the first year and-a-half in the U.S. Data collection for this project took place in both Israel and New York at the homes of the families, the children’s schools, peer group activities, extracurricular programs, play, and summer camp.
The focus of this dissertation project is on routine home and school practices which orient children to attitudes towards their identities as Israelis, as Zionists, as transnationals, and as temporary residents of the United States. The study approaches this question through the lens of the language socialization paradigm, a subfield of linguistic anthropology which understands socialization to occur both through the use of language and to the use of language. I argue that through attention to language use and form children are taught to attend to symbolic boundaries between Israeli, Jewish Diasporan, and U.S. American identities. The simultaneous reinforcement and transcendence of these symbolic boundaries is a defining characteristic of living transnationally.
I find that transnational identities: (1) Are constructed through an explicit recognition of the boundaries between the linguistic and cultural practices of the homeland and the host country; (2) are negotiated through attention to the authenticity of members of the homeland, the host country, and the transnational community; that is, through attention to the extent to which individuals stay within the symbolic boundaries that separate the homeland and the host-land; and (3) Display an ambivalence toward affiliation with the host country by accentuating and emphasizing the linguistic and cultural practices of the homeland. Based on these findings, I call for a language socialization approach to studying transnationalism which recognizes the role of the local and the global, the contemporary and the historical, and the orthodox and heterodox in everyday transnational practices.
By focusing on the shlichim’s transition from Israel to the United States, the dissertation obtains a view of migration often unavailable to researchers: the preparation for departure and initial arrival to the country of destination. This period of transition is formative in the emissaries’ experiences and as they define themselves vis-à-vis their country of origin and their host country. In this sense, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of the role of language in transnational practices, thus supplementing the growing field of research around questions of transnationalism, diaspora, and identity.