Shifting identities of Bengali female learners in ESOL : a poststructuralist feminist exploration of classed, ‘raced’ and gender identities

Bonetti, Vivijana (2016) Shifting identities of Bengali female learners in ESOL : a poststructuralist feminist exploration of classed, ‘raced’ and gender identities. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis explores the social construction of classed, ‘raced’ and gendered identities of Bengali female learners of ESOL (English for Speakers of other languages) from a post-structuralist feminist position. My research is conducted within the post-compulsory educational context, exploring how Bengali women construct identities in relation to educational experiences of learning English as a second language, and considering how Bengali women are positioned, in turn, by contemporary popular, academic and political discourses.

This study is intended to contribute to creating ‘a third space’, within which shifts in cultural meanings that occur through colonialisation and diaspora, offer possibilities for reworking and resisting notions of passivity, inactivity and docility assigned to women within popular and some white academic discourses (Hall, 1992; Khan, 1998; Gilroy, 1992; Spivak, 1999). To open up spaces for non-hegemonic readings of Bengali femininities I identified discursive strategies actively employed by Bengali women to trouble/unsettle dominant discourses that reduce Bengali women to ‘docile bodies’ (Foucault, 1979).

Applying a feminist post-structuralist framework has illuminated differences and similarities between, and within, Bengali women’s accounts of ESOL education, to substantiate the view that there is no one truth and no unitary subject. I also draw upon post-colonial, black feminist perspectives to argue that the voices from the margins that have traditionally been excluded from the knowledge making processes can bring into dispute the current discourses about ’race’, class, gender, culture, religion, patriarchy and femininity.

The research was undertaken at two educational sites in East and central London over five years. In total, 20 Bengali female learners of ESOL participated in life history interviews over the period of 2 years. The sample was diverse in terms of age, class, education, employment, marital and maternal status. In addition, I also conducted one-to-one interviews with two members of teaching staff per institution.

I do not present my interpretations of Bengali female accounts of employment and education as ‘truth’ since post-structuralist approaches challenge the notion of singular truth for all South Asian women. Rather I present these accounts as alternative truths which expand and challenge deep-seated inequalities that position South Asian women as passive victims within existing, dominant oppressive discourses.

BonettiVivijana - EdD Full thesis.pdf - Published Version

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