Monash University

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Identity formation in mobility : voices from 'non-white' international ESL/EFL teachers in Vietnam

posted on 2017-02-16, 05:14 authored by Nguyen , Thi Thanh Huong
Studies on teacher identity reveal discriminations in the workplace where non-native/non-white English teachers are unfairly and unfavourably perceived as inferior to their Caucasian counterparts. This study attempts to critically examine the identity formation of non-white international teachers in Vietnam in the context of mobility and transnationality. The three ideas of identity developed by Varghese et al. (2005) form the basis of the study, including identity as related to socio, cultural and political context; identity as constructed and negotiated through language and discourses and identities as not fixed, stable and unitary yet multiple, shifting and in conflict. Besides, the concept of identity as both being and becoming developed by Phan (2008) is useful to understand the teachers’ identity as continuity, connectedness, fluidity and wholeness. The five ways to view identity in the community of practice proposed by Wenger (1998) are also employed to develop a comprehensive understanding of the identity formation of these teachers. Qualitative case study is adopted to capture the depths and the complexities of teacher identity construction experienced by 13 non-white international English language teachers during their period of teaching in Vietnam. Using multiple sources of data, including individual interviews, focus group discussions and reflective writing, this study aims to capture the participants’ meanings, offer a holistic account of a complex picture and unveil the processes of identity formation of these teachers. The findings of the study support the arguments by Wenger (1998) and Davies and Harre (1990, 1999) that identity is (self-) positioning and by Dolby and Cornbleth (2001) and Phan (2008) that identities are relational. All the participants self-positioned as competent and capable English language teachers, although at times some teachers might doubt their credibility due to their racial status, ultimately they were confident about their qualifications, their language competence and their teaching pedagogy. Although these teachers constructed their identities based on the various relations and interrelations in the new contexts, they seemed to have a strong sense of belonging to their national and cultural identities. They constantly return to their cultural/national values as their core and dominant identities and prescribe themselves as having these cultural and national values. While admitting having the changes in their identities, they also confirm the maintenance of their cultural and national values, which they can return to anytime they wish. This finding challenges the argument that there is no sense of a core value (Hall and du Gay, 1996). These core identities help them to have a better orientation in the new context as they tend to negotiate their new identities on the basis of the core identities. The implications of the study are that identity concept should be included in TESOL programme as a platform for identity construction and formation. It is also suggested that the discussions of native-non-native dichotomy should be revisited as the participants in the study challenge the popular belief that non-white/non-native teachers are inferior. They further confirm that non-native teachers have their strengths, and sometimes even better advantages than some native teachers and vice versa. Therefore, the two groups should work collaboratively with each other to effectively utilize their strengths and develop their professional identities.


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Principal supervisor

Le Ha Phan

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Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Education

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