Cécile Vigouroux

Cécile Vigouroux

Simon Fraser University
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Cécile B. Vigouroux is an associate professor of sociolinguistics in the French Department of Simon Fraser University, Canada. Her scholarship focuses on transnational identity formation, the reshaping of linguistic ideologies, sociocultural transformations triggered by new forms of mobility, socioeconomic inequalities, the impact of informal economy on language practices, and La Francophonie. Her work bridges sociolinguistics with other disciplines such as geography and economics. Her recent publications include Bridging Linguistics and Economics (co-edited with Salikoko Mufwene), Cambridge University Press (2020).

Talk Information:

Why and how “informal” economy is relevant to understanding language practices and ideologies in the context of migration: Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa
June 17, 2022 | 9:00 AM

In this presentation I call attention to the overlooked relevance of “informal” economy to understanding languages practices and ideologies in the context of migration and beyond. Since the late 1980s, sub-Saharan African countries have experienced several structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These economic restructurings have impacted millions of Africans regarding the quality of education and their access to healthcare and employment. Economic precarity has affected all social strata, even those of the most educated. To survive, people have developed alternative ways to make a living, usually referred to as “la débrouille” (i.e., ‘fending for oneself’, ‘getting by’, or ‘making do’) in the former French and Belgian exploitation colonies of Africa. I illustrate how, in the context of Cape Town, la débrouille —defined as a set of socio-economic activities, matrix of perceptions, and identity performance—shapes Congolese migrants’ language practices and ideologies. My aim is to foster more dialogue with some economists and linguists on migrants’ socioeconomic mobility, thereby moving away from an overemphasis on educational attainment in assessing the latter. I highlight the fact that the etic educational categories on which many scholars of migration and policymakers have overly relied to measure migrants’ likelihood to be “integrated” in their host societies are ideology-laden. In addition, and more importantly, the traditional categories fail to capture the vast repertoires of resources that migrants deploy to navigate their new environments. I submit that examining the migrants’ language practices from the perspective of informal economy makes it possible to foster new debates on the fuzzy and highly instrumentalized notion of socio-economic integration.