Caroline Kerfoot. Foto: Ingmarie Andersson
Caroline Kerfoot. Foto: Ingmarie Andersson

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This study of a postcolonial site addresses the paucity of research on multilingual children as knowers. Its focus on peer interactions reveals multilingual classrooms as crucial sites for the recognition of knowers and the promotion of epistemic justice. Building on Fricker (2007), Ogone (2017), Santos (2014), among others, epistemic justice is defined as an ethical project of addressing epistemic exclusions and seeking parity of epistemic authority for historically marginalized speakers/knowers (Kerfoot & Bello-Nonjengele ms.).

Twenty-five years after apartheid, educational reforms in South Africa have not addressed persistent forms of epistemic injustice, wrongs done to people in their capacities as knowers (Fricker 2007): the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2016) found that 78% of South African Grade 4 children could not read for meaning in any language. A major factor is that over 80% are learning in an unfamiliar language. This paper suggests that monoglossic language-in-education policies and practices constitute a form of epistemic injustice in removing from learners the ability to make epistemic contributions, a capacity central to human value (Fricker 2015). It reports on a pilot study where primary school learners could use any language in the English medium classroom.

Using observations, interviews, and audio-recorded peer interactions from a Linguistic Ethnography among Grade 6 students in Cape Town, the paper explores the use of multilingual resources to negotiate epistemic authority. Findings show how learners construct epistemic stances which are simultaneously affective, serving both to build relations of knowing and promote solidarity.

The paper extends work in Multilingual Education and Language Socialization to show the potential of multilingualism as epistemic resource to contribute to cumulative learning (Maton 2013), render visible learners as moral agents and brokers of care (García-Sánchez 2018; C. Goodwin 2007), and recognize English language learners as legitimate knowers, thus helping lay the basis for conditions of epistemic justice.

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