The phenomenon of globalization, in its modern sense, has been largely studied in the past couple of decades by scholars working in the social sciences. Although processes of migration and international trade have existed for centuries, they have been greatly amplified by the creation of new technologies and the emergence of virtual places. In this context, new linguistic and cultural practices are being developed and can be easily seen in places of hypermobility, where different cultural identities are more prone to clash and mix with each other. Dichotomies such as local/foreign, center/periphery, and us/them are used as tools to underline the power relations between different countries, and are often interpreted as synonyms of normal/strange and good/bad. Because these are deictic words, however, their meaning may shift depending on who says them and from which place. The majority of sociolinguistic studies have focused on the so-called contemporary metropolis and urban centers, but the definition of such places comes from an Anglo-American/European point of view. Hence, in this book, Kroon & Swanenberg, from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, steered away from this colonialist point of view and moved marginal places to the center.
The book comprises eleven essays divided into three broad sections. The first one, ‘Center-periphery dynamics in the discursive (re-)construction of nation-states’, contains three chapters that mainly focus on sociolinguistic phenomena at the national level, describing how governments enforce language policies in the hope of promoting a postcolonial national identity. Although countries such as Tanzania (Jan Blommaert), Indonesia (Zane Goebel) and Eritrea (Sjaak Kroon, Jenny-Louise Van der Aa, & Yonas Mesfun Asfaha) are considered marginal and isolated on a global scale, according to the editors, this ‘does not necessarily prevent [Tanzania, Indonesia and Eritrea's] inhabitants from participating digitally in globalization’ (6).
The next section, ‘Marginalized language and literacy resources online and in digital media’, includes case studies that deal with local identities from marginalized cities or neighborhoods from Bangladesh (Shaila Sultana), the Netherlands (Jos Swanenberg), South Africa (Fie Velghe) and Brazil (Luiz Paolo Moita-Lopes, Branca Fabrício, & Thayse Figueira Guimarães). We are able to see how people from these locations represent themselves in virtual spaces, and in turn how these representations have an impact in their cultural identities and their sense of being in their communities. As Sultana explains in ch. 5, people who are a ‘marginalized segment of a marginal country within the marginal space negotiate their sense of being’ (85).
The four chapters in the last section, ‘Language and semiosis in identification and commodification processes at work in marginal spaces’ discuss situations where marginal places became tourist centers—cities in Ukraine (Petteri Laihonen & István Csernicskó), Finland (Massimiliano Spotti) and the Caribbean (Gregory Richardson)—and how a small province in China (Xuan Wang) uses English as a commodity, thus placing value in their businesses through the value they associate with the English language.
The book convincingly shows that relationships between center and periphery exist everywhere and at every level, and that they are represented differently according to the ways in which each cultural community builds its identity. Furthermore, a ‘marginal’ place is not necessarily perceived as negative by its members; it may actually be a description that they yearn for.