Tito’s children?: educational resources, language learning and cultural capital in the life histories of interpreters working in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Sudosteuropa, 59, (4), .
The foreign military forces and international organisations that have operated in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) since 1992 recruited thousands of local people, often young students, to work as interpreters. Drawing on 31 life history interviews conducted in 2009–10 with language workers who grew up in former Yugoslavia, this paper seeks to answer whether certain age groups and social strata that emerged from socialist Yugoslav society were better able to benefit in the ‘SFOR economy’ that resulted from the effects of international intervention in BiH. In the process, it combines applied-linguistics approaches to language-learning narratives with area-studies perspectives on postsocialism to show how particular forms of language learning equipped people to adjust to the socio-economic crisis. Although all Bosnian schools taught foreign languages, pupils were assigned arbitrarily to different languages and English was not available in all schools. This study suggests on a limited sample that education outside the state classroom was a more helpful source of the necessary cultural capital to work as an interpreter and was easiest to access for children of urban professional families. The interpreting jobs that these subjects found during and after the war made them more privileged than workers on local-currency wages but less privileged compared to their parents’ pre-war lives. The work-based identity they went on to construct was informal and has not produced a public narrative that constructs interpreters as a recognised social group.
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