Daan Hovens (Maastricht University): ‘How works the system?’ The Formation of Transient Multilingual Communities on an Industrial Production Floor in the Dutch-German Borderland

The aim of this paper is to examine a workplace socialisation process in an industrial company, and to analyse what role language plays in this process. The industrial company is a metal foundry in the Dutch-German borderland, where I participated in the production work as an ethnographer for 3.5 months in 2017. In total, I have recorded 74 hours of audio material and 6.5 hours of video material during this time.

Different social constellations that I found in the metal foundry can be conceptualised as Transient Multilingual Communities (Mortensen 2017). The transience of these communities is related to the prevalence of flexible employment contracts, especially since the global financial crisis of 2008. The diversity in language backgrounds among the production workers is related to the creation of a cross-border labour market in the Dutch-German borderland, as well as to labour migration (especially from Poland).

Applying the perspective of Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2007, Fox 2000) to the formation of Transient Multilingual Communities, I understand workplace socialisation as a situated learning process that involves both human and nonhuman actants. By analysing an audio-recorded event, during which an employment agency worker from Poland learns how to work with a machine in a given situation, I discuss the role of such actants in this process. In the end, this opens up the question how to understand the term “multilingual” in the concept “Transient Multilingual Communities”.

Key words: Workplace Socialisation, Transient Multilingual Communities, Communities of Practice, Situated Learning, Actor-Network Theory


Fox, Stephen. 2000. Communities of Practice, Foucault and Actor-Network Theory. Journal of Management Studies, 37 (6), 853-867. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

Latour, Bruno. 2007. Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mortensen, Janus. 2017. Transient Multilingual Communities as a Field of Investigation. Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 27 (3), 271-288. Arlington: American Anthropological Association.


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