In Australia in the 1990s, as in many other Western countries, there was a proliferation of interest and investment in the development of programs for the teaching of languages other than English (LOTE). These policies were driven largely by Federal policy makers, and were underpinned primarily by an economic rationale as Australia was being re-oriented to its geographic and strategic interests in Asia. In 1994 the adoption of the 'National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools' strategy by the Council of Australian Governments represented a milestone in Australian language policy. The Federal Government made a significant financial contribution to the implementation of this narrowly trade focused strategy, underpinned by a visionary and optimistic assumption that government policy could make a positive difference to people, it could be the driver of a new Australian identity (Lo Bianco, 2002).
This study considers how this educational policy played out in a local site, a Year 7 LOTE (Indonesian) primary classroom in Northern Australia, and the impact it had on the construction of teacher and student identities. The initial resistance to the introduction of compulsory LOTE programs in primary school and the lack of any dialogic engagement with the community generated lukewarm support and, in some cases, antagonism from teachers, principals, parents and students. Other than an elitist "we know what's best for you" attitude which rode roughshod over local opposition, other institutional and community factors also made problematic the establishment and acceptance of the LOTE in the life of the primary school and community. Of particular note was the re-emergence and popular support for nationalist politics in the late 1990s. It is not surprising then that in many instances LOTE was constituted on the margins of primary school, not as central or in dialogic engagement with the rest of the curriculum.
In this study I adopt a sociocultural theoretical framework, underpinned by the work of Lev Vygotsky, to theorize identity construction. Learning to be a particular kind of person, to take up a particular identity, is envisaged as being constituted through and by participation in culture-specific social events. These ways of being are mediated actions which entail learning to operate with appropriate mediational means, for example voices. 'Learning' is theorised as the process of acquiring or appropriating various sociocultural voices, and 'competence' as the capacity to adopt and perform with voices that are culturally privileged, that is, those voices that have audibility and status within specific cultural contexts.
In the construction of my own identity as researcher I participated with the voices of a range of theorists and researchers as I followed Vygotsky's example and tried to work in transdisciplinary ways. In keeping with the notion that identity is not an essential or a priori category, I used a variety of analytical tools in a critical examination of the tensions implicated in mediated action. These tools, though drawn from different disciplines, are theoretically consistent with sociocultural theory, and have enabled a complex multilayered analysis. In particular, complementing Vygotsky's theoretical insights with Bakhtin's descriptions of dialogicality, the multivoiced nature of utterance, and the construct of voice itself, provided methodological tools that are sensitive to the polyphonic nature of classroom talk and the relationships between language, ideology and hegemony. With these tools I examined how participants negotiated and re-mediated identities through their deployment of cultural and linguistic resources.
The study revealed how LOTE provides an arena for the ventriloquation of a diversity of voices. Although diversity is often welcomed as a positive aspect of classroom life, the voices that characterize this classroom work to silence alterity and reconstitute hegemonic practices. These practices effectively other difference rather than providing a context for dialogic engagement and the development of hybrid or intercultural identities. I argue that whilst the implementation of educational policy is so significantly underpinned by the human capital model and economic considerations, and fails to respond or engage with diverse local conditions, the outcomes of these programs may continue to be antithetical to desired goals. However, this is not to deny the affordances of LOTE programs in the development of hybrid identities. The viability of these programs and their effectiveness in constructing productive ways to be, I conclude, is contingent on a commitment to their dialogic interanimation at policy, institutional and individual levels.