Critical sociocultural perspectives on an asynchronous online intercultural exchange between Hindi and English language learners
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This study examines an asynchronous online intercultural exchange between Hindi language learners (the HLLs) in the United States and English language learners (the ELLs) in India. Drawing on Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), the study conceptualizes this online exchange as a dynamic system and adopts a critical sociocultural approach to understand what constitutes the system and how it operates. The study also examines the different contradictions and outcomes that emerge within the system. Finally, the study looks closely at three the HLLs’ experiences to understand how their discursive cultural identities shape their online interactions with the ELLs and their overall engagement with the discussion project. The study involved six-weeks of online discussions between seventeen the HLLs from an intermediate-level Hindi language class at a large American university and eleven the ELLs from a Sanskrit Studies Institute in India. The bilingual discussion forums were structured around thematic analysis of a mainstream Hindi (Bollywood) film called English-Vinglish, where participants discussed issues related to film studies, gender-roles, and language ideology. Sources of data included the HLLs’ languacultural autobiographies, post-collaboration reflections, interviews, transcripts from the online discussions, researcher’s reflective journal, and transcripts from online and telephone communication with the ELLs and the teacher-collaborator in India. Qualitative analytical approaches like constant-comparison and triangulation inform the process of data analysis. In addition, theories and tools from Interactional Sociolinguistics (IS) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) provide an overarching critical lens to understand the complexities of the different processes and interactions operating within the system under study. Findings highlight the deeply contextual and layered nature of the online activity system, where each component of the system—subject, mediational tools, rules, community, division of labor, and object—plays an important role in how language, culture, and identity are perceived and constructed by the participants. Furthermore, analysis shows that technological, affective, and academic contradictions alter the dynamics of the system and limit participants’ opportunities for learning. Finally, case study analysis of the three the HLLs reveal that their cultural identities are situated in diverse historical, political, and socioeconomic experiences, which allow them to negotiate interpersonal understanding with their interlocutors and make meaning of the text under discussion.