From 'nobody to somebody' : challenges and opportunities for Gujarati women learning English in London

Ray, Smita (2015) From 'nobody to somebody' : challenges and opportunities for Gujarati women learning English in London. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This qualitative case study explores the language learning experiences of a sample of Gujarati women in London and uses tools of qualitative inquiry including 20 semi-structured interviews, two focus groups, observation and document analysis. The process of learning English as a second language is explored through an intersectional lens that takes account of gender, race and class and the corresponding identity constructions of Gujarati women. An inability to speak English for these women is further complicated by inequities brought about by classed structures, private/public patriarchy and processes of ‘othering’ for migrant women. This study is situated during a period of both rising nationalistic ideas in the UK, and during a precise moment of cultural nationalism in South Asia which is framed by concerns with race, ethnicity, class and gender which informs the formation of British-Asian femininities. This research supports other work that conceptualises identity as being in a constant state of flux, which is made explicitly visible within language learning processes that highlight identity as socially constructed, contradictory, and fluid. The poststructuralist conception of social identity as multiple, as a site of struggle, and subject to change is forms the basis of the theoretical framework. The concept of ‘investment' is employed to describe immigrant women’s involvement in language learning processes. The findings suggest implications for immigrant language training policies and further research.

While the women interviewed in this research experience ‘race’ and patriarchy along class lines, they also face a dilemma of balancing their personal lives and protecting themselves from the ‘corrupting Western’ culture through imposed cultural definitions which might result in them taking up an ‘oppressed’ South Asian femininity. However, with time and age, the women’s subjectivities are reworked through acts of resistance, and examples of subtle manipulation which manifest as expressions of opposition as they perform an appreciation of ‘their own culture’ while simultaneously appropriating white spaces. Here, through this appropriation, the respondents construct ‘resistant identities’ and define a new ‘third space’. The dichotomies between East and West and tradition and modernity dissipate as the women’s agency allows them the actual construction of their identities as they go on learning English and changing their lives. These women’s oral histories speak of the gendered and sexualized discourses of assimilation, racism, and ‘otherness’, as well as other multiple points in which they break down. The conceptual insights gained from studying these Gujarati women are plentiful.

RaySmita_FromNobodyToSomebody.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (1MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item