Abstract Alexandre Duchêne
Language work in the new globalized economy: Between precarization and banalization

The aim of this presentation is to highlight the impact of rapid transformations in the workplace —characterized by an increase in transnational economic trade and the growing importance of tertiary sector industries,—in particular, service and communication—on the definition of what counts as legitimate, desirable, and economically profitable linguistic practices.  Indeed, these transformations highlight the increasing importance given to multilingual communication skills for workplace activities, not only in terms of constituting the raw material of labor, but also in terms of translation and language-training needs.  In this respect, the new economy is not necessarily monolingual and Anglophone, as one might assume, but is thoroughly multilingual in its workings.  However, the very nature of this work—inherently oriented towards the logics of productivity and flexibility—has led to the valuation of languages, speakers, and linguistic labor with regard not only to a competitive marketplace but also to economic profitability.  Where such language-related needs are increasing, the regulation of their costs will remain an enduring business concern.

In this talk, I will first demonstrate that these new conditions have an impact on a range of professions linked to the language industry, in particular, on language teachers in the private sector.  I will then show how these language professionals are subject to economic exigencies which regulate their practices and condition the meaning of language-instruction according to a certain neoliberal vision of efficiency, flexibility, and adaptation that renders their professional activities and status fundamentally precarious.  Second, I will demonstrate how a series of linguistic competences—particularly, those of migrants who are lowest-positioned in the corporate hierarchy—are often exploited without any symbolic or material recognition.  This results, on one hand, in the regular use of their abilities, while  on the other affording a cheap solution to linguistic problems in the workplace.  

These two dimensions—the pressure placed on language professionals by the logic of productivity and the corporate exploitation of the linguistic resources of low-prestige employees—thus lead me to emphasize the importance of giving critical attention to the emergence of an ‘economicist’ ideology of languages which, under certain conditions, leads to the reproduction of social inequalities in the workplace.