Workshop: Muiris Ó Laoire


Muiris Ó Laoire, Institute of Technology, Tralee

Subaltern Agency and Language Policy: Implementing Policy on the Ground


The workshop will invite participants to consider the concept of a language policy (LP) trajectory, i.e. policy from its negotiation and articulation to its implementation. The focus in particular will be on aspects of LP implementation in institutions and organisations, e.g., schools, colleges, health services. It is proposed to explore and discuss how social actors working within organisations draw on their professional and personal experiences, as well as on existing discourses to raise questions, criticise, defend or reject LP and justify the way they have responded to it either as individuals or as an organisation.


Recent language policy research highlights individual and collective agency in the processes of language use, attitudes and policies (Ricento, 2000). People on the ground, charged with implementation are not the passive receivers of policies or the vague resistors once depicted in research accounts, referring to public body practitioners, (Ball, 1997; Shohamy, 2009), but social actors who can exercise agency, albeit within constraints imposed by organisational structures. The aim is to show that language policies are not merely implemented, but are actually shaped on the ground (Ball, 1997) since “it is in local decisions that planning has its ultimate impact” (Ó Laoire 2007: 167). The orientation taken in the workshop conceptualises policy implementation as a continuing process of construction by those involved. Policy implementation manifests itself in many bilingual and multilingual contexts as a struggle for meaning, as a variety of social actors actively engage in the planning, interpretation, modification and/or (selective) implementation of policy, in accordance with existing institutional practices, external pressures and individual preferences.


Examples from a case study of the Official Languages Act (2003) will be given and participants will be invited to explore and discuss examples of implementation from below (subaltern agency) drawing on their own sociolinguistic contexts, research studies, data and interests.



Ball, S. J. 1997. Policy sociology and critical social research: A personal review of recent education policy and policy research. British Educational Research Journal

Ó Laoire, M. 2007.  Language use and language attitudes in Ireland. In Lasagabaster, D. & Huguet, A. (Eds), Language use and attitudes (pp.164-184). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Ricento, T. 2000. Historical and theoretical perspectives in language policy and planning. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4, 196–213.

Shohamy, E. 2009. Language policy as experiences. Special issue of Language Problems and Language Planning 33/2, 185-189.