Second Language Identities

David Block. New York: Continuum, 2007. Pp. iv + 230.

Reviewed by Buripakdi Adcharawan
Walailak University, Thailand

Block s Second Language Identities addresses the complexity of identity constructs in second language learning (SLL) contexts. The book has a double aim. On one level, it is designed to revisit past and present research agenda in identity and adult second language learning. The second aim of this book is to provide suggestions for L2 identity research. It does both well. Second Language Identities is appropriate to be used as an introductory textbook for readers interested in how L2 identity research is constructed and developed.
In Chapter 1 Block begins with a description of identity perspectives from a personal concept to an academic one. He then employs the key poststructuralist theories that have set the stage for current identity research in the social sciences and SLL studies. In this respect, Block cites major research to investigate how some L2 researchers have incorporated identity into their work. He also reviews recent key work in related areas of social identity and identity negotiation in multilingual settings to address the history of identity studies.

In Chapter 2, Block engages the readers by grounding a poststructuralist view of identity. In essence, he examines the key constructs of current discussion of identity relevant to a broad poststructuralist theory. He then describes seven key perspectives on identity: race, ethnicity, nationality, migration, gender, social class and language.
In Chapter 3, Block reviews key studies carried from the 1960s-1980s to provide background information of L2 identity research. These include a good range of SLL studies from adult migrants in the US to adult SLL in Canada. This research-based chapter offers historical knowledge for those who are new to the field.

In Chapter 4, Block explicitly addresses L2 identity by examining five case studies of adult migrants to present readers the current SLL context of workplace. Through the in-depth research discussion, Block contends that it is in the naturalistic adult migrant setting that carries the greatest potential of all the language learning for the critical experiences central to the emergence of new subject positions.

In Chapter 5 Block addresses how identity is an issue in foreign language (FL) contexts. He illustrates by examination of studies which take place in different FL contexts in the US, Australia, Japan, and France. Block discusses in detail four classroom-based case studies. Through the analysis of these studies, Block concludes that FL contexts provide few chances for the emergence of significant new subject positions.

In Chapter 6 Block addresses identity in study abroad (SA) contexts. In the first half of the chapter, his discussion centers on identity issues in Russia, Costa Rica and Spain. Block examines the relationship of the sexual harassment of female students and its impact on their opportunity to develop target language-mediated identities. He devotes the rest of the chapter to other identity areas emerging in SA research and ends it with his critiques about SA and L2 identity constructs.

In Chapter 7, Block concludes with a summary of what has been discussed in the aforementioned chapters. He further describes five directions for future L2 identity research: (1) Social class as a key analytical construct; (2) More expanded conceptualizations of L2 learners first language; (3) The emergence of local lingua francas; (4) How SLL experiences are electronically mediated in various ways; and (5) Psychoanalysis as a source of analytical frameworks. Finally, Block ends the chapter by emphasizing that there is a need for both conceptual and empirical L2 identity research that not only problematizes contexts but also draws on multiple sources of data (e.g. interviews, diaries and recorded interactions) in order to generate ambitious yet possible research schemes.

Second Language Identities is written in a critiqued research/case-oriented approach that thoroughly reviews research in identity. Despite the book s rich content, some readers might find some chapters somewhat technical: Active L2 researchers will appreciate the depth of this overview; yet other L2 professionals may not require such in-depth analysis. Still the book contributes new knowledge of key poststructuralist theories about L2 identities. In light of these developments, Block s book represents a synopsis of current research as it offers critical perspectives and asks provoking questions associated with L2 identity theories and research directions.