Volume 14, Issue 4 (2023)                   LRR 2023, 14(4): 405-445 | Back to browse issues page


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Marzban B, Adel S M R, Eghtesadi A, Elyasi M. A Qualitative Analysis of Identity and Investment among Advanced Iranian EFL Learners in Private Schools. LRR 2023; 14 (4) :405-445
URL: http://lrr.modares.ac.ir/article-14-51453-en.html
1- Department of English Language and Literature, Hakim Sabzevari University, Sabzevar.
2- Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Hakim Sabzevari University, Sabzevar, Iran. , sm.adel@hsu.ac.ir
3- Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Farhangian University, Mashhad, Iran
4- Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Hakim Sabzevari University, Sabzevar
Abstract:   (2381 Views)
This study intended to investigate identity and its ramifications in the light of investment theory (Norton, 2000). Seventeen participants from different language institutions in Mashhad, Iran, 10 females and 7 males, were selected and interviewed according to their level of proficiency (C1 and C2) and the level of their involvement. Using MAXQDA software 18, the researchers employed the three levels of the open, axial, and selective coding of the grounded theory methodology to analyze the data and bring in the results. The results showed that some significant factors directly affected investment such as working hard, fear of failure, and personal interest in learning English. Moreover, the findings of this study indicated that those with high levels of involvement had high levels of being hardworking and their attitude towards language, class, teacher, and learning was positive. Another finding of the study was that describing the target community for the learners increases their motivation which in turn leads to increase in their level of investment. The results proposed some new insights into the relationship between the sub-constructs of investment and the factors that reinforce it as well as some practical premonitions for teachers and practitioners of English specifically as a foreign language.

1. Introduction
In the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2019), the great English poet, philosopher, and co-founder of the romantic literary movement, identity is multifaceted and the result of a series of factors that are intertwined: “I do not call the sod under my feet my country, but language-religion-government-blood-identity in these makes men of one country” (p. 145).
The concept of identity, for many years, had been regarded as a psychological issue (Balistreri et al., 1995; Erikson, 1959, 1967; Hall, 1996). Psychological factors can be separated into two categories: affective or emotional, and cognitive.
The tides have changed in the past few years, in favor of a more sociological perspective toward identity especially concerning language (Adel et al., 2015; Canagarajah, 2007; Norton, 2000; Talmy, 2008) which in turn has led to a change from micro-level investigation to macro-level studies in this realm.  We can provide the image of identity from two more lenses; one as a photo and one as a video. In the first one, identity is considered as a unitary and fixed concept (Hall, 1996), and from the latter point of view, it is a multimodal, dynamic construct (Norton Peirce, 1995). Norton (2000) defines identity as the question of how an individual perceives their relationship to the world, how this relationship is constructed according to time and place, and how it is going to be shaped in the future. Duff (2002) believes that identity never stops reconstruction but, it continues changing in interaction with other people and gaining experience. Therefore, when students are entering English language programs at universities or private institutions, their identity will be affected.
According to Norton (2000), we need a more holistic view toward identity which also takes into account the language and the immense effects it might have on identity or vice versa. In the realm of identity and language, however, things have taken a turn in favor of more sociological perspectives that refute binaries and dichotomies.
This study mainly revolves around Norton’s notion of investment. This theory has altered the way many scholars consider motivation and identity in a social sense and their influence on language learning and the classroom. Norton Peirce (1995) asserted that the role of investment was more important than motivation when it comes to depicting the complex relationship between social context and language learning involvement and those Second Language Acquisition theories had not touched base with the ramifications of social inequality on language learning. She provided a hypothesis that was based on social identity and factored inequality into the equation while she tried to delineate that one simple reason cannot be the reason for learners to stay motivated. Rather, the learners will invest more in learning, in case they realize that by learning language and acquiring a wider range of symbolic and material resources, they shall be able to enhance their cultural capital.
Motivation is at the heart of investment, as a static specification of a language learner, and Norton Peirce (1995) assumed that unsuccessful students in acquiring the target language did not have enough (or appropriate) aspiration to learn the language. The point that Norton Peirce (1995) discovered was that high levels of motivation did not essentially cause decent language learning, and that inadequate interplay of power between language learners and target language speakers were regularly noticeable in her learners’ explanations. A learner might be extremely interested, however, they might not be invested in the activities of a class if the activities are sexist, racist or homophobic. Since identity is flowing, manifold and a site of struggle, the way students can invest in a target language depends on the dynamic work of power on various grounds, and hence, investment is complex and fluid (Norton, 2013).
In the past two decades, educational research in the realm of learning motivation has changed its perspective, from superficial study of motivation to the investment and how a learner’s identity interacts with their own learning background and the influence that the learners have on each other. With the advent of Norton Peirce’s (1995) theory of investment, investigations have been done to put to test the sociocultural nature of language learning, identity, and investment in different places and contexts.
1.2. Research Questions
  1. How are the investment and its sub-constructs perceived by advanced adult Iranian EFL learners?
  2. What are the factors that enhance the level of investment in EFL learners?
  3. How does the identity of EFL learners change through the process of learning?

2. Literature Review
The theory of investment was developed from the concepts drawn from the works of academics such as Bourdieu (1977), Weedon (1987), and Ogbu (1978). Weedon’s (1987) work on social identity pursued feminist post-structuralism but highlighted the important role that language has in the association between society and the individual. Furthermore, she was known for her work on the theory of subjectivity that she illustrated as an individual’s thoughts whether conscious or unconscious, their emotions, and how they comprehend themselves concerning the world. Norton draws greatly from Weedon’s work to formulate her hypothesis.
Norton and McKinney (2011) defined their identity approach to language learning as related to a sociocultural theory approach (Lantolf, 2000). The dominant idea of Norton Peirce’s (1995) study was the investment which she coined concerning the economic metaphor of cultural capital derived mostly from the work of Bourdieu. Cultural capital denotes the products of education such as qualifications, knowledge, and methods of thinking which are strange to a specific class or group. Norton’s investment is affected by social theory and Bourdieu’s various kinds of capital. Capital makes troubles in investment, reflect how the values of a person change in dissimilar linguistic settings, leading learners to lose or gain power (Darvin & Norton 2015). Moreover, through the notion of capital, investment allows us to observe how learners see their linguistic means and cultural capital as affordances that will be improved over the process of language learning, enabling them to form or reform their identity and their imagined identities.
Norton adheres to the post-structuralists declaration that language creates our intelligence of self, and that identity is manifold, altering, and a site of the struggle (Norton Peirce, 1995). By hypothesizing the complex association between the language learner and the community, she tries to improve the prospect based on which SLA scholarship observes the dealings of power related to the language learning process. This vision tests educational foundations of material circumstances and physical environment that let learning happen, and how the right to speak is given to or taken from students by gender, social class, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Investment keeps an important footprint in language learning for indicating the socially and historically-built association between learner identities and learning commitment. According to Kramsch (2013), investment underscores how agency and identity play an important role in acquiring symbolic and material capital. In other words, learners invest in learning with the knowledge that taking up this task will increase their material and symbolic capital and that, in turn gives prominence to social and cultural capital.
The concept of investment shows that students frequently have different requirements to involve in a variety of social communications and practices they are placed in. Former studies on motivation had commonly considered learners as having unitary, fixed, and ahistorical personalities while investment, perceives learners as having complicated identities that vary through different settings, and are made based on both social and individual experiences. Therefore, though motivation can be asserted as a psychological construct, investment is a sociological attempt to acquire a language through assuming various identities.
The investment approach keeps the research emphasis of the current study in that it develops the outlook of what pushes learners to contribute to language learning keenly and why they frequently resist. It does so by containing the idea of identity concerning its social and historical setting as part of the idea of motivation. The investment attitude might also contribute to giving a more comprehensive clarification for subjects associated with learners’ resistant classroom performance other than brushing it off as an absence of motivation.
The three foremost theoretical pillars of investment are identity, capital, and ideology.  As said by Darvin and Norton (2015), anywhere the three pillars meet, the student’s investment in acquiring the target language happens. Norton (2013) describes that learner identity may vary constantly through time and space. Current research employs Norton’s model and applies the tenets of poststructuralist method to the research on the relationship between language and identity.

Figure 1
Investment Theory (Darvin & Norton, 2015)


3. Methodology
3.1. Participants
Seventeen advanced, adult English learners in private institutes in Mashhad, Iran, were selected to participate in this study. Dornyei (2007b) believed that “an interview study with an initial sample size of 6-10 might work well” (p. 127).
3.2. Procedure
The researchers started each interview with some easy factual and personal questions (Dornyei, 2007b). Based on the fundamental issues of investment and identity which were reviewed in the existing literature, the following central topics were considered in the interview questions: attitude toward language learning, English learning, teachers and the class, motivation, playing social roles, mark, identity as a learner, investment, imagined community, ideology, positioning, affordances, capital, and systematic patterns of control.
Then, these qualitative data were analyzed thematically through the principles of grounded theory (Creswell, 1998; Glaser, 1998). The individual interviews were transcribed integrally, coded, and analyzed with the MAXQDA 18. Grounded theory was utilized in this section to lead us towards exploration which might have resulted in theory making and shed light on prospective new constructs or confirming and analyzing the existing constructs of the theory that was our base for carrying out the qualitative section.
Grounded theory’s technique of evaluation includes three phases. The first phase is open coding which involves a cautious, comprehensive reading and coding of the data to construct the analysis outcomes inductively. The researchers employed their pre-determined theoretical ideas to make questions and particular codes. Various grounded theory methods let the combination of pre-conceptual groups in this first phase, on the condition that it does not affect the procedure signifying the investigator’s preconceptions (Seaman, 2008).
Then, several of the pre-determined codes were classified, and others were suited as part of a category that comprised the variables. The data analysis ultimately did not reject most of them. As the present researchers were pondering the data, they began classifying related matters to search more. This phase likewise includes classifying and defining the features of each code. A property is an important and expressive feature. A dimension identifies and collects disparity among perceptions (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). The open coding activity took incalculable hours of systematic wondering and reflection on the data over the questions and the extra devices, in addition to the writing of several valuable notes. Slowly this coding led to classifying the notions and arranging their assets and scopes.
The second phase was the axial coding. Here, codes were changed into groups contingent on their position and substantiality. This procedure indicates a profound analysis of the properties and dimensions of the categories, by inductive and deductive reflection on concepts that appeared from the subtleties between the analysis procedure and the theoretical outline. These concepts and opinions happened via memoing, the action of writing portions of reflective work recognized as memos (Clarke, 2005). The last result of axial coding is the recognition of associations among groups. Memoing was extremely positive since it was a regular method of materializing all the opinions (e.g. the replies that were provided to each of the uncountable questions; and thoughts that unexpectedly entered the researchers’ minds). Reflecting on each excerpt of data, the researchers compared all the participants’ data under a code based on associations they discovered between codes and categories.
Selective coding was the last phase that suggested a procedure close to the preceding stage but on a more intellectual analytical level. The main group was chosen by related criteria. The entire construction of the ideas’ associations settles around such groups.

4. Results
4.1. Codes and Meanings
In this part, codes are going to be introduced. Eight initial codes acted as variables for this phase of the study, and 35 more codes were later added during the process of coding. Over 800 vignettes contributed to the emergence of these codes. The relationship between these codes and their intersections are the key to understanding more about investment and its contributing factors. The variables which were taken from the theoretical framework are illustrated in Table 2 including Investment (In.), Identity (Id.), Capital (Ca.), Ideology (Ideo.), Affordances (Af.)/ Benefits (Be.), Positioning (Po.), Systematic Patterns of Control (SP of C), Imagined Identity (II.)/ Community (Co). The intersections between these and the other codes are the glow-in-the-dark material of investment.
After the open coding stage, the intersection between the codes and the variables was ascertained to explore the relationship between them. Codes were categorized based on their intersections and 6 categories were derived that indicated the constructs of investment. These main categories (themes) were as follows: Attitude, Motivation, Purpose, Identity and Thought, the Past and the Future, and Hard Work and Success. These categories reflect the core category of the study i.e. EFL learners’ perceptions of investment. In this section, these main categories and their sub-categories, illustrated in Figure 1, will be discussed along with some extracts from learners’ interviews supported and verified by literature.

Figure 2
A proposed Model of EFL Learners’ Perceptions of Investment



4.2. Conclusion and Implications
This study employed grounded theory to explore how the investment model is perceived in the EFL context. The present researchers proposed a model (Figure 2) that delineated the main constructs of investment in light of EFL context learners’ perspectives. The proposed model added the affective factors such as attitude and motivation, and practical aspects such as involvement and hard work to the existing model (Darvin & Norton, 2015). The present researchers also tried to suggest ways to increase the level of investment among adult EFL learners based on the proposed grounded theory that was derived from the experience of successful, advanced learners with high levels of investment.
The pedagogical implications of this study are that a learner’s investment has more to do with their achievement than merely their motivation status. How investment is affected by multiple, complex factors surrounding the learners is an element often ignored or not noticed by the instructors. The implications may go beyond the confines of the classroom and involve the policy-makers as well. The learners of this study refer to the inefficiency of the state school systems in teaching English on numerous occasions and almost unanimously believed fundamental changes were in order. Learners also should realize the gravity of paying attention to their investment level as a thrusting force in the process of learning English.
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Article Type: مقالات علمی پژوهشی | Subject: language teaching
Published: 2023/10/2

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