Multiple, dynamic and complex: an investigation of investment in English as a Second Language on Facebook
Treloar, Sarah Jane Ruth
Social networking sites such as Facebook permeate many areas of modern life and are being used by second language users and learners. How they use these spaces for language use and development, and the impact that it has on them, is an under-researched area. This thesis expands on Darvin and Norton’s (2015) model of investment to investigate how target language users of English take up the right to speak, or more accurately in the context, the right to post, in English on Facebook. It takes a posthumanist perspective on investment, a perspective that has been garnering increasing attention in applied linguistics and second language acquisition, but which has not been used to investigate investment. The research focused on thirteen individuals from a variety of walks of life and their interaction on Facebook in English. Data were gathered through multiple face-to-face and online interviews, as well as online participant observation of Facebook interaction over an extended data collection period. A thematic analysis of these data examined the extent to which participants were invested in the use of English on Facebook. The analysis revealed that the infrastructure, the functionality of Facebook, and the affordances that arose from that functionality were essential to participants’ investment in using English. Through these affordances, including visibility, persistence, spreadability and searchability (boyd 2014), participants made use of their social, linguistic and cultural capital. They positioned themselves not as non-native English language users, but as friend connections and experts in certain fields, and received validation for these subject positions. They scaffolded their English competencies through the use of spatial repertoires such as language tools and with recourse to language processing time, thus bolstering their language confidence and broadening opportunities to invest in the language. Facebook played to the language and social media competencies of some participants, and they engaged in identity production via impression management. Participants’ audiences were culturally and linguistically diverse, as well as belonging to different arenas of their social worlds. Participants were strategic about how they posted themselves into being on Facebook, sometimes making themselves less visible and at times requiring no audience at all. These findings suggest that Darvin and Norton’s (2015) model of investment needs to expand to encompass the importance of the sociomateriality of Facebook. Investment needs to be viewed as arising from capacities produced from the entanglement of intra-actions, that is, as an assemblage, in relation to Facebook. These assemblages produced different capacities for investment dependent on the participant and the nature and coalescence of the intra-actions involved, and brought an added complexity and dynamism to investment. Social capital, data-as-capital, the language functionality of the site and its ubiquity produced Facebook as a space of legitimate English language use. This research contributes to knowledge about second language acquisition in digital settings. The findings are of use not only to researchers in language education and digital education, but to teachers and second language learners who can use them to gain a greater understanding of how investment in social networking sites can occur or be hindered. It contributes to the call for new pedagogies, theories and policies to account for language use and learning in online spaces (Darvin and Norton 2016a). By placing investment in a sociomaterial context, this thesis brings the concept of investment into the arena of social networking sites, and provides a theoretical framework for further research in this area.