Reading as cultural capital across three generations: Tracing bilingual literacy lineage in a Singapore Malay family

Year: 2021

Author: Loh, Chin Ee, Teravainen, Taina, Nadiah, Arina

Type of paper: Pre-Recorded Individual Paper

Pre-recorded presentation link: events, policies and practices shape personal experiences of literacy learning and are embodied in ways of thinking, valuing, conversing, and doing that are situated in everyday literacy practices. In this presentation, we seek to unpack issues of educational access in the area of literacy learning, especially reading, by utilizing Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural capital, habitus and field as analytic lenses through which to understand generational accumulation and shifts in bilingual reading acquisition, its significance and impact through the case study of three generations of one Malay family. Within the Singapore context, rapid improvement in literacy rates from 60% in 1965, the year of independence, to 97.3% in 2019 means that each generation have had very different experiences of literacy learning, with access to different individual, institutional and technological sponsors supporting or constraining their access to valued language and literacy skills. The bilingual policy instituted in 1981 which enshrined English as the official language of education and business and the Mother Tongue language as a second language have led to changing familial and institutional habitus associated with each language, with proficient English-language users having an economic advantage. The case study of one Malay family’s narratives is part of a larger lived experiences study, including participants of different ethnicities, educational levels and socio-economic statuses across different generations in multicultural Singapore. Participants were sought by convenience and snowballing technique, and then selected through purposeful sampling.  Two interviews were conducted with each participant, followed by memo taking and field notes by the researchers, to allow for reflexivity within the process. Grounded inductive theory was used during line-by-line coding and analysis of the data. Focusing on a single Malay family allowed the team to examine shifts in cultural capital and habitus against the changing fields in Malay and English literacy expectations in the Singapore context. The narratives demonstrate the situated nature of reading in Malay/English as cultural capital within local/global networks and trace the shifts from Malay to English-dominant reading within three generations, highlighting the tensions and comparisons of language acquisition in shifting socioeconomic and cultural contexts. Affect stands out as a core strategy for familial socialisation. Familial and institutional habitus interact to shape individual literacies, multiplying the literacy capital in both languages, albeit unevenly. We situate this study against the larger study to discuss how bilingual reading futures can be shaped at policy levels for greater equity.