Setting the Table: A Conversation about Code Switching - Culture on the Edge

Codes of Conduct - Code Switching and the Everyday Performance of Identity - K. Merinda Simmons

K. Merinda Simmons [+-]
University of Alabama
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K. Merinda Simmons is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Director of the Religion in Culture MA Program at the University of Alabama. Her books include Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora (Ohio State UP, 2014), The Trouble with Post-Blackness (co-edited with Houston A. Baker, Jr., Columbia UP, 2015), and Race and New Modernisms (co-authored with James A. Crank, Bloomsbury, 2019). She is editor of the book series Concepts in the Study of Religion: Critical Primers (Equinox).
Monica R. Miller [+-]
Lehigh University
Monica R. Miller is Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies at Lehigh University (Fall 2013) and among other publications, author of Religion and Hip Hop (Routledge). Miller currently serves as a Senior Research Fellow with The Institute for Humanist Studies (Washington, DC), is Co-Chair and founder of Critical Approaches to the Study of Hip Hop and Religion Group (American Academy of Religion) and member of the Culture on the Edge scholarly collective (University of Alabama). Miller is co-author of forthcoming volumes, Religion in Hip Hop: Mapping the New Terrain with Dr. Anthony B. Pinn and rapper Bun B (Bloomsbury Press), The Hip Hop and Religion Reader (with Dr. Anthony B. Pinn) (Routledge) as well as an edited volume on identity, Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion (Equinox). Her work has been featured in a host of regional and national print, radio, live video, and TV news outlets. She has presented her research at colleges, universities, and conferences throughout the U.S., Cuba and Canada.


In its formative years, the discourse of “code switching” was largely linguistic in nature with a political bent toward debates regarding “proper” English and its alternatives and/or concerns over “linguistic difference” and issues of access and what has been dubbed for many years as closing the “achievement gap.” It is within this linguistic context that the term was adopted as a proxy for “variety” and “difference” more generally. Attention and focus was directed towards dialects, registers, and styles of speech patterns often assumed to “depart” from the normative (or “proper”) linguistic code or understanding within a normative context. More recently “Code Switching” has become a popular scholarly and general public concept taken up by a wide variety of sectors, fields and areas of study often used to reference the actions of a particular person/group that is assumed to break from their own “natural” practices to perform codes “not their own” for the purposes of fitting in, acquiring social capital, and accessing spaces that often perceive the “native” practices of the switcher as illegitimate or illegible. Whether distinguished and notable for judicial victories or to prove the inherent “linguistic” or “cultural” biases of measures such as standardized tests – it’s quite often the case that discourse on “code switching” is not only overly racialized but also assumes a learned ability for certain individuals and groups to shift/switch with a particular purpose in mind and the social actors doing the switching are almost always considered “marginal. The papers in this volume argue against the usual interpretation, contending that such focus on the switches of the “marginal” often assumes that the very thing that marginal groups – or certain “strategic” actors are shifting towards (the dominant group) is itself uncoded – or untethered from ideology. Thus, such encounters unduly leave power unchallenged without acknowledging or recognizing that we’re all shifting, switching – that variety is just prevalent in standard English as it is Ebonics – or “African American Language.” Furthermore, traditional approaches imply that shifting requires expertise, a claim that maintains and reproduces cleavages among the very marginal groups said to shift. Contributors to this volume challenge such interpretations by asking “When is a shift to an alternate mode of performance not a switch?” “How is it that some acquire the ‘skill’ to switch and others don’t? “Whose switch counts as a switch?”

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Simmons, K. Merinda; Miller, Monica R. . Setting the Table: A Conversation about Code Switching - Culture on the Edge. Codes of Conduct - Code Switching and the Everyday Performance of Identity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Sep 2021. ISBN 9781781791844. Date accessed: 24 Jun 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.24863. Sep 2021

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