Gender, Race and Other Factors: Being a Member of Multiple Communities

“Independence and Interdependence” is a perfect and timely conference theme to describe the processes of how we learn, teach and research languages. We all bring our own individual factors such as gender, race, and cultural and educational backgrounds into our teaching and researching. At the same time we interact with numerous social factors, which sometimes work as affordances to accomplish what we want, but at the same time they can potentially become obstacles. To further develop the conference theme, in this plenary speech I want to discuss the notion of “communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998) in order to show how factors that contribute to our identity interact with social factors in a given community; and that this helps us analyze and appreciate the fact that professional development as a teacher and researcher can be described as the process of becoming a member of a community. In order to specifically illustrate this point, I will focus on how my identity interacts with social, cultural and political variables in two very different research communities I have recently been involved in: digital technology in language learning and English education in Japanese elementary schools. To illustrate, I initially felt alienated because of my gender in the male-dominated community of language and technology but my position as a university professor helped me feel at ease in the same community. On the other hand, my entry into the community of teachers of young learners was smooth because I am a woman but my university position did not help me share some aspects of the community ethos. In the increasingly rapidly changing society we live in, we simultaneously belong to multiple, different communities, while entering and exiting communities is far more common and frequent than ever before. This makes our life incredibly rich but at the same time makes it more complex and at times even unsettling. This talk will help us reexamine how we can make sense of the process of professional development through the lens of communities of practice by highlighting who we are, where we are, and in which direction we are heading.

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