Contesting Regimes of Variation

Critical Groundwork for Pedagogies of Mobile Experience and Restorative Justice

  • Robert Train Sonoma State University
Keywords: restorative justice, metadiscursive regimes, sociolinguistic variation, standard language, sociolinguistics of mobility, pedagogies of experience, coloniality


This paper examines from a critical transdisciplinary perspective the concept of variation and its fraught binary association with standard language as part of the conceptual toolbox and vocabulary for language educators and researchers. “Variation” is shown to be imbricated a historically-contingent metadiscursive regime in language study as scientific description and education supporting problematic speaker identities (e.g., “non/native”, “heritage”, “foreign”) around an ideology of reduction through which complex sociolinguistic and sociocultural spaces of diversity and variability have been reduced to the “problem” of governing people and spaces legitimated and embodied in idealized teachers and learners of languages invented as the “zero degree of observation” (Castro-Gómez 2005; Mignolo 2011) in ongoing contexts of Western modernity and coloniality. This paper explores how regimes of variation have been constructed in a “sociolinguistics of distribution” (Blommaert 2010) constituted around the delimitation of borders—linguistic, temporal, social and territorial—rather than a “sociolinguistics of mobility” focused on interrogating and problematizing the validity and relevance of those borders in a world characterized by diverse transcultural and translingual experiences of human flow and migration. This paper reframes “variation” as mobile modes-of-experiencing-the-world in order to expand the critical, historical, and ethical vocabularies and knowledge base of language educators and lay the groundwork for pedagogies of experience that impact human lives in the service of restorative social justice.

Author Biography

Robert Train, Sonoma State University

Robert Train is Professor of Spanish at Sonoma State University (SSU), a California State University. Before coming to Sonoma State in 2002, he taught Spanish and French in a public high school in urban California to students with richly varied multicultural and multilingual experiences. At SSU, he has taught the complete range of undergraduate Spanish language learning courses, as well as courses on linguistics, history of Spanish, and teacher education. He has increasingly engaged in transforming traditional instruction and curriculum as part of an ongoing struggle that is two-fold: to provide high quality and meaningful public education to all students, and to create a family-community-school-university-career pipeline for future Latinx educators and professionals in California. Drawing on his educational and professional background, his research is interdisciplinary and socially engaged. It brings together critical insights from sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, anthropology, philology, history, education, Latinx studies, postcolonial studies, philosophy, critical race theory and postmodern theory to consider the historically-situated contours and consequences of ideologies, practices and policies in the lives of Spanish speakers within and beyond the classroom. His research interests, like his teaching, are deeply informed by years working with immigrant Spanish speakers, first as a vineyard worker, then a public high school teacher, and more recently with heritage language learners at a federally-designated Hispanic serving university. One strand of his research has led to a decade-long project to examine the ongoing colonial and postcolonial heritage of multilingual and translingual contexts of language and education in California. Another strand focuses on the present and future of Spanish Heritage Language Education in the lives of Latinx individuals, families and communities in the United States. Among his recent publications, he is co-author with Glenn Martínez of the book, Tension and Contention in Language Education for Latinxs in the United States: Experience and Ethics in Teaching and Learning (Routledge/CAL, 2020).