English and ‘personality development’: the hyper-individualization and de-politicization of social mobility in India

Katy Highet*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

In the last two decades, English learning in India has undergone noticeable and subtle transformations. Alongside the massive increase in coaching centres to cater for widespread demand, there has also emerged a tacit understanding that it is no longer enough to speak English to be socially mobile: students must also engage in a range of self-work, or ‘personality development’. In this article, I draw on ethnographic data from an NGO in Delhi that seeks to alleviate poverty through English and personality development training for disadvantaged youth. I show how discourses of personality development (re)produce and juxtapose particular understandings of the self that work to hyper-individualize and depoliticize the project of social mobility. Situating these discourses within the context of shifting political economic configurations in India, this paper demonstrates how these notions of ‘personality development’ both emerge from and obscure long-standing and newly-developing colonial, caste and class histories, and how they work to produce depoliticised subjectivities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-34
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Volume2024
Issue number285
Early online date18 Jan 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2024

Keywords

  • India
  • English
  • personality development
  • caste
  • class

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