In 2020, the Census of Population and Housing revealed that over 300 different languages are spoken in Australian homes and that a fifth of Australians speak a language other than English as their main language (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021). Additionally, around 50% of Australian citizens were themselves born or have at least one parent who was born overseas (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021). Suffice to say, Australia is one of the most linguistically diverse societies in the world. It is perhaps a true reflection of what Vertovec (2019) terms ‘superdiversity’: the result of the unprecedented movement of people across national borders over the last few decades. The consequent interactions and intersections of language are, therefore, fundamental to our understanding of the experiences of belonging of a significant proportion of Australian youth.

Australia, however, remains a society in which deeply entrenched monolingual, monocultural attitudes and ideologies continue to prevail (Slaughter and Cross 2021; French and Armitage 2020). The ‘monolingual mindset’ embedded within the Australian imaginary — and consequently its education system — reinforces the idea that English is the de facto national language of Australia (French and Armitage 2020) and that the use of any language that is not English is a distraction, an inhibition, a “zero sum game” (Lin 2013; p. 524). The very concept of ‘literacy’ and educational attainment is tied exclusively to English (Slaughter and Cross 2021), positioning those who speak it as an additional or second language as ‘deficient’. Schalley et al. (2015) go so far as to argue that “the more multilingual Australian society has become, the more assimilationist the policies and the more monolingual the orientation of the society politicians envisage and pursue” (p. 170). These inherently nationalist policies often encapsulate a monolithic expression of what it means to be ‘Australian’, which have social, cultural, economic, and political implications for those who do not express themselves in ‘Standard’ Australian English (SAE).

Standards, however, often reflect the experiences, attitudes, and ideologies of the dominant groups in society. The processes of cultural/linguistic homogenisation and standardisation construct safe, comfortable, manageable binaries or ‘borders’ — a Western preoccupation, according to Derrida – (Parker and Vaughn-Williams 2009), which helps us better understand inclusion versus exclusion, both material and metaphorical (Rajaram and Grundy-Warr 2007). Even in a post-national, globalised world, national borders continue to exist, as do the borders between languages and cultures; and just as there is an exact point between two nations that signifies the separation between us and them, there exists this same point where languages interact, where differences and deviations from the ‘standard’ are carefully observed, documented, categorised, and policed. The existence of identities that do not fit a ‘standard’, that are innately heterogenous in nature, that do not and cannot belong to preconceived binary categorisations, implicitly become aberrant or Other.

For a young person whose home language or languages differ from the ‘standard’ (ie. English/SAE) expected in school and other social spaces, each day involves shuttling between cultural identities, each day a reminder of their innate hybridity and that they are a deviation from the status quo (Harris 2013). This can be detrimental to young multilinguals’ sense of belonging and connection to the world around them. Schools and the education system – in which young people spend much of their time outside home – play perhaps the most important role in legitimising certain knowledges, modes of expression, and ways of being. As such, it has the power to systematically delineate and devalue hybrid ways of being, potentially causing what Bourdieu (1991) terms ‘symbolic violence’ to those young people with diverse and complex cultural and linguistic trajectories. Bourdieu (1991) suggests that this type of non-physical violence occurs through the imposition of a dominant group’s norms or standards onto a marginalised group to maintain the status quo. When this happens, a school and, by extension, the society it reflects, can become a place of profound unbelonging for a young multilingual.

Noble and Ottman (2020, p. xvii) argue that the need to understand the processes of youth belonging is becoming more urgent in an increasingly globalised world, where flows of people, the advancement of technology, ecological crises, and the “populist fears of the stranger” are serving to disconnect us from the environment, from those around us, and from ourselves. In youth studies, the concept of place is central to the study and understanding of belonging, which is both a subjective experience as well as a social process (Harris et al. 2021). Belonging is produced through the practices of connecting to places and to community and is the process of becoming included and of feeling safe and secure (see also Anthias 2006; Antonsich 2010; Habib and Ward 2020; Harris et al. 2021). bell hooks (2019) wrote, “I have yearned to find my place in this world, to have a sense of homecoming, a sense of being wedded to a place” (p. 2). She wrote of making a list of what she would need to feel a sense of belonging, to “create firm ground”, and at the top of her list, she wrote, “I need to live where I can walk. I need to be able to walk to work, to the store, to a place where I can sit and drink tea and fellowship. Walking, I will establish my presence, as one who is claiming the earth, creating a sense of belonging, a culture of place” (hooks 2019, p. 2). The implication of ontological security that accompanies belonging seems to be increasingly at risk or precarious for young people, as long-standing ways of being in the world are changing at a fundamental level (Harris et al. 2021). Therefore, as more young people become ‘placeless’, place theory becomes insufficient to understand the belonging of young people who may have difficult, discordant, or non-existent attachments to place, who do not fit or identify as neatly belonging to either side of a cultural/linguistic binary, whose cultural/linguistic geographies are heterogenous. Place is also insufficient to understand their everyday lives at the margins, on or between the borders of cultures/languages. In examining belonging as stemming from an attachment to a particular place, many young people with hybrid identities are excluded from youth studies’ purview. Therefore, I argue that in order to examine the ways in which all young people live and experience (un)belonging within Australian society, youth studies must go beyond place-based conceptualisations and look to young people’s cultural/linguistic practices, which are spatially negotiated.

To develop a more culturally inclusive and nuanced model of belonging, it is important to develop an understanding of the ways in which young multilinguals negotiate their sense of belonging everyday. To do so, it is essential to understand monolingualism: the ways in which it manifests within society and how the monolingual mindset frames multilinguals and perpetuates their exclusion. Following this, I examine the literature on place and place-based belonging before offering space and spatially-negotiated belonging as an ontological alternative. Homi Bhabha’s (1994) Third Space is posed as a more open, ‘elastic’ lens through which to understand heterogenous identities and experiences. In the third space — the cultural/linguistic borderlands of multilingual lives — hybrid, heterogenous language practices are more than a tool for communication: they are a way of being in the world. They are deeply connected to young people’s stories and identities: a space for becoming and expressing their authentic selves, a means of belonging and connection, as well as a site to resist and speak back to dominant discourses and narratives.

Monolingualism and the (un)Belonging of Young Multilinguals

Culture and language are intrinsically intertwined; language comprises and is comprised of culture. Language is an expression of the values, the ideologies, and the discourses of a particular cultural milieu, whilst also being the mode through which those values, ideologies and discourses are produced and disseminated (Gee 2008). Therefore, monolingualism can be understood as a cultural (and political) disposition as well as a linguistic one, one that is deeply rooted in the ideology of the nation state (Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 1995; Pennycook 2010; Jenkins 2014). Historically, language has been viewed, and continues to be viewed as a marker of national identity, which carries implications of ‘unity’, ’purity’ and ‘order’ (Phillipson 1992) because a national hegemony invariably involves a hegemony of language (Billig 1995). ‘Linguistic imperialism’ refers to — amongst other things — the ways in which nation-states privilege one language over another (Phillipson 1992), especially in settler countries such as Australia. This is often done through the process of forcing speakers of other languages (such Indigenous languages) or varieties of a language to shift to the dominant language (i.e. English, globally) or dominant mode of expression (i.e. SAE). This progresses the imperialist mechanism by which the languages and cultures of a vast majority of the world’s peoples have become marginalised or displaced. The very concept of a ‘minority language’ can only exist within the ideological framework of nationalism, in which language is central to ‘nationhood’ (Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 1995). Take, for example, the former Liberal government’s decision to increase the length of time permanent residents are required to live in Australia before becoming eligible to apply for Australian citizenship. Former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton claimed on ABC Radio that “by expanding from one year to four years the period people need to be permanent residents before they become Australian citizens, we believe that they can improve their English language skills” (Acharya 2017). When the same government proposed a new ‘functional’ English language requirement for partner visas to be implemented in 2021, then Prime Minister Scott Morrison described it as both a ‘pro-migrant but also pro-Australia’ policy, whilst Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge suggested the changes would improve ‘social cohesion’ (Truu 2020). It is also evident that certain varieties of English are valued internationally over others, and one is only exempt from taking the IELTS [International English Language Testing System] test if one is from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Ireland (IELTS 2023). The requirement of these kinds of tests – taken each year by thousands of hopeful young skilled migrants and international students – is a gate-keeping mechanism and forced measure of assimilation, with English proficiency at the core of essentialist discourses of ‘Australianness’ and ‘social cohesion’.

This link between language and the nation state, however, is problematic in that it is incorrect to assume that all speakers of a particular language belong to the same nation. English, for instance — which was seen as ‘belonging to’ or ‘owned by’ (Ortega 2013) the British — spread to settler colonies (i.e. Australia, Canada) and extraction colonies (i.e. India, Nigeria) through the processes of imperialism and colonisation, where it has been spoken for centuries and remains an intrinsic part of the sociopolitical fabrics of those nations (Tollefson 2000; Phillipson 1992). To not perceive English as also ‘belonging to’ these nations is, in essence, a form of erasure (Ortega 2013). Further to this, monolingualism cannot account for the diversity and the number of ‘named’ languages (i.e. English, French, Hindi) or the varieties of one language (i.e. Italian dialects or regional Chinese dialects and languages) spoken within a single nation-state. The notion of the existence of a single English – even within England – is an ‘oversimplification’ (Rampton 2006). Many characteristic local varieties of English have emerged in different local contexts, and more varieties continue to be practiced within Britain’s former colonies – Singaporean English, Sri Lankan English, Nigerian English, to name a few – and many more continue to emerge as English continues to spread globally (Kachru et al. 2006; Pennycook 2010; Jenkins 2014).

Monolingualism, therefore, is a ‘myth’ that does not reflect the reality of the world in which young people live (Shohamy 2009); it is “a figment of the imagination” (Joseph 2006; p. 45). Yet, it continues to pervade Australia’s political and education systems and perpetuates static, bounded ideas of what language is and what language can do in terms of identity, expression, recognition, and belonging. There remains a strong distinction and disconnect between young people’s mother tongues and/or home language practices and the language practices that are expected in classrooms and other social settings. Even bilingual education, in many places, has historically been and remains sequential or simultaneous in nature, where two languages are introduced successively or concurrently, but kept separate: taught in separate schools or classrooms, at separate times, by separate teachers (Lo Bianco and Slaughter 2016). This reflects a monolingual perception that languages are discrete systems or codes – and that they exist as such in the minds of their speakers – and continues to promote the idea that the only natural way to conduct a speech exchange is in a single language or variety. This positions the code-switching that a young multilingual organically does between their languages as ‘unnatural’ or deviant (Bailey 2012). Through a monolingual lens, therefore, multilingualism or code-mixing of any kind is positioned as something that challenges the ‘purity’ of a language and, thereby, the nation-state.

However, Australian society and its classrooms only continue to become more culturally and linguistically diverse. In social and educational settings, to quell a multilingual’s use of the entirety of their linguistic repertoire is, in essence, the equivalent of the partial restriction of a monolingual’s repertoire, which allows them to make meaning of their social worlds (García and Kleyn 2016). In everyday practice, young multilinguals deploy their entire linguistic repertoires, moving fluidly in and out of their multiple languages and language varieties, unconfined by the socio-politically defined boundaries of named languages (García and Kleyn 2016). To deny young multilinguals these practices in certain social spaces is to let parts of their selves go unacknowledged and unrecognised; this is a form of cultural erasure and a denial of identity. It also denies them the opportunity to express themselves authentically and to deny them opportunity for genuine connection and belonging.

Place and the Politics of Belonging in the Borderlands of Language and Culture

It is often difficult to have conversations about who we are without encountering questions about where we are from and to where we belong. Place, therefore, is intrinsically intertwined with identity and belonging, and place-based understandings of belonging are fundamental to certain communities, such as many Indigenous communities around the world. Australian Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander communities derive their sense of belonging from being on Country (Moreton-Robinson 2015). A large body of research in sociology, anthropology, and geography reveals that young people do situate their selves and construct meaning of their lives in connection to place. Youth studies, in particular, has always had a strong focus on belonging as connected to or associated with place (Cuervo and Wyn 2012; Habib and Ward 2020; Ravn 2023; Berman 2023; Fu and Li 2022). Massey (1995) understands the meaning of place to be “constantly shifting articulations of social relations through time” (p. 188). That is, certain places can be seen as separate and distinct to other places, as well as somehow pervious and meaning different things to different people at different times. People, therefore, can experience the same place quite differently: a place that feels like home to one, can be the site of trauma to another, a site of belonging at one life stage, a site of unbelonging at another. For many transnationals, immigrants, and refugees, for instance, connections to place can be contested, fraught, or even non-existent. Places designated as ‘home’ by virtue of birth may not carry the same sense of connection or belonging it is meant to and can even be associated with violence and fear (Blunt and Dowling 2006; Blunt and Varley 2004). In the realm of culture and language, place-based understandings of belonging can extend to territorial conceptualisations of the ‘nation-state’ and monolithic ideas of nationality. Linguistic purity and standardisation are very much rooted in place-based ideas of nationhood. For many, therefore, place and its associations — be it a home, a landscape, or a country — can invoke feelings of dislocation or disconnect.

Place is imbued with connections to people, communities, objects, practices, and representations (Gieryn 2000) and attachment to place is produced through people’s habitual movements (Seamon 2015; de Certeau 1984). The enactment of these movements by people and their engagement in specific socio-cultural practices over time in a particular location — which Seamon (2015) terms ‘time-space routines’ — elucidates how place is produced or ‘performed’ (Cresswell 2005). This idea of performing or ‘doing’ place draws on Butler’s (1990) theory of performativity (vis-à-vis gender) and works against immutable structuralist interpretations of place, as a ‘container for objects and processes’ (Heley and Jones 2012; p. 209). According to Butler (1990), gender is produced through the repeated performance of acts of gender. By this credo, the repetitive performance of certain practices gives place meaning and, over time, produces and reproduces certain shared values and ideologies in a given location. Material worlds do not exist separately from the people that inhabit them - in fact, people and their practices are intrinsic to their formation, through people’s experiences of them (Thrift 2008; Tuan 1980; Seamon 2015). These experiences are informed by our physical senses, as well as how we feel when we are in particular places. This ‘feeling’ is what scholars would attribute to belonging: spatiotemporal connections to affective attachment, as well as the conceptualisation of home and the related feelings of safety that are shaped by everyday practices, relationships, and memories (Antonsich 2010; Yuval-Davis 2017).

Many notable scholars of youth studies have attempted to problematise the materiality of place in relation to belonging. Cuervo and Wyn (2012; Harris et al. 2021) argue that the meaning of belonging is negotiated relationally at the nexus between place, people, and mobilities. A person’s sense of belonging can come from deeply personal and emotional attachments to place and people, as well as from engaging in particular discursive practices over time (Yuval-Davis 2011). The feeling of belonging to or being ‘at home’ in a place can be associated with certain sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and the feelings these conjure up in relation to physical location. It is often associated with feelings of safety and acceptance within a community, having a ‘place’ within it, or being part of a common social fabric with a set of shared practices and values (Yuval-Davis 2011). Engaging in these shared place-based practices or ‘performances’ can be a means to overcoming alienation and isolation (de Certeau 1984), thereby producing feelings of inclusion and belonging.

Yuval-Davis’ (2006, 2011 and 2017) work, seminal to the study of belonging, focuses on the ‘politics of belonging’ in areas where identities intersect with political projects, such as the nation-state, migration, and citizenship. She conceptualises identities as “stories people tell themselves and others about who they are (and who they are not)” (Yuval-Davis 2006; p. 202). These stories go beyond mere associations with categories such race, class, gender, dis/ability, and so on; they allow young people to create understandings around self and other, within and in relation to these categories; they are inter-generational, reflect emotional attachments and desires; they are individual and collective stories; they are multiple and overlapping, and they shift and change across time and space (Yuval-Davis 2006; Appiah 2018; Brah 1996). Identities can be constructed out of the need to belong, and belonging can allow identities to be shifted and reimagined. This, perhaps, explains the link between studies of belonging and studies of borders in all forms (geographic, national, ‘racial’, cultural, and linguistic), closely tied to the consequences of the processes of postcolonialism and globalisation (Habib 2017; Davis et al. 2018). In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa (2007) writes that the borderlands are “physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy” (Preface). Anzaldúa speaks specifically of the US-Mexico border, a geopolitical border that is also a border where cultures intersect and interact with each other. It’s where the “discursive meets matter… the place inhabited by all of those who do not inhabit the center” (Savi 2015; p. 182). To Anzaldúa (2007), this borderland is an emotional space in which to dwell, as they often are or become; “It’s not a comfortable territory to live in, this place of contradictions,” she writes. She terms the US-Mexico border, “una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (p. 25), a “1,950 mile-long open wound” (Anzaldua, 2007, p. 24); the terms ‘Third’ and ‘First World’ themselves, language signalling hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and unbelonging. Crowley (1999) defined the politics of belonging as ‘the dirty work of boundary maintenance’: the delineation of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, of who does and does not belong to the ‘imagined community’ that is the nation-state (Anderson, 2016). Nations are communities based in an imagined sociopolitical unanimity (Anderson 2016; Yuval-Davis 2006), an assumed consensus on what ‘Australian’ looks and sounds like, for instance, amongst other things; an assumed consensus that is, in turn, used to other those who do not neatly fit into the singular ‘us’ category.

Place, therefore, is a limited lens through which to understand the experiences of culturally mobile youth whose identities do not and cannot be confined by the geopolitical identity politics or the cultural and linguistic boundaries that accompany the ‘materiality’ of place. The worlds of these young people have had rapid and significant changes over time and/or are in the process of constant flux, as are their senses of home and belonging, which must adapt and readapt to their ever-changing realities (Marcu 2014; Ahmed 2023).

Language and Belonging in the Third Space

Youth studies needs new and expansive ways to understand belonging. Amongst others, Farrugia (2014) argues for a spatial turn, as well as a more interdisciplinary approach to reinvigorate theoretical projects within the sociology of youth. He argues that it is necessary to go outside of sociology’s ‘canon’ to envision new directions for youth studies, which include young people from outside youth studies’ traditional foci (Farrugia 2014). This includes those from the ‘global South’ “whose experiences may challenge youth studies’ overwhelmingly European theoretical basis” (Farrugia 2014; p. 303). In essence, Farrugia (2014) calls for the decolonisation of youth studies alongside many other scholars (Swartz 2022; Breakey et al. 2021; Cooper et al. 2021), arguing that a more diverse empirical focus can illustrate the heterogeneity of youth across geographic borders and can serve to break down binaries such as urban/rural, global North/South. This recognises and acknowledges the diversity and complexity of young people’s experiences and ways of being, and strengthens the case for the argument that youth experiences, including youth language practices, are spatially constituted.

Spatially-negotiated belonging is an epistemological alternative to place-based belonging, and Homi Bhabha’s (19881994) Third Space provides a more open, ‘unbounded’ lens through which to understand heterogenous identities and hybrid belongings. Emerging out of Bhabha’s (1994) seminal essay ‘Commitment to Theory’, Third Space problematises the way in which culture is viewed: the fixity in its meanings, values, and stories. Culture, in the context of the nation state and in connection to place, can become essentialised, and can take on a certain physicality or materiality in and of itself. Bhabha (1994) posits that ‘culture’ becomes problematic when it is ‘signified’ or essentialised and that ‘culture’, in fact, exists in the ‘inbetween’ spaces, the interstices or borderlands between homogenised, static cultures, as cultures are within nation-states. He wrote that critical engagement can only take place “at the significatory boundaries of cultures, where meanings and values are (mis)read or signs are misappropriated. Culture only emerges as a problem, or a problematic, at the point at which there is loss of meaning in the contestation and articulation of everyday life, between classes, genders, races, nations…” (Bhabha 1994; p. 34). Yuval-Davis et al. (2017, p. 230) make a parallel assertion in terms of belonging, in that it tends to be ‘naturalised’ or invisible in everyday life, until it is given expression and politicised when contested. In essence, Bhabha opens up a new, unique ‘location’ for critical theory and the study of culture, as Yuval-Davis does for the study of belonging.

Third Space theory is a lens that can be used to examine hybrid spaces of belonging for youth and how they challenge, confront, and destabilise homogeneity and ‘cultural authority’. In the third space, hybrid language usage is a way of being. It is intrinsically connected to young people’s stories and identities, and the ways in which they negotiate belonging in different social spaces. Language is not simply an abstract system of reference. On the contrary, philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin perceived language as a mode through which we participate in “a historical flow of social relationships, struggles and meanings” (Bailey 2012; p. 500). Language, as well as its usage, cannot be neutral. They are inextricably connected to identity and belonging. The ways in which we use language – the choice of which language, the words we use, in which register, to what extent, in which accent or inflection – is negotiated in relation to where we are using it, with whom, for which purpose, and so on. We feel ‘at home’ in certain languages and like visitors in others. We feel more comfortable being emotional in one and feel more logical in another. Woven intricately into languages are also distinct sociohistorical threads and, in their situated use, new threads continue to be woven in over time. This may mean we speak in a vernacular that is highly specific to a certain locality or begin using colloquialisms when we have lived in a particular place for an extended period of time. As such, our repertoires are in constant flux and are connected to our sociohistorical trajectories. To Bakhtin, language is “alive and moving with the consciousness and practices of people” (Bailey 2012; p. 501) and its users ‘social actors’, agentively using all their linguistic resources to negotiate their social worlds. Bakhtin’s work conceptualises the practice and meanings of multilingualism in particular contexts, through which languages are not seen as bounded, ahistorical, apolitical systems discretely coexisting alongside each other. Instead, through this lens, multilinguals’ use of language is seen as complex, hybrid, layered, and interwoven in practice, as well as innately connected to their identities.

When place-bound, however, language, like culture, becomes a static, fettered thing, which can be used to alienate, other, and subjugate young people with diverse cultural backgrounds and linguistic trajectories (Yuval-Davis 2006). Language can be employed to produce and reproduce borders through discourses and ideologies that masquerade as objective truths (Eagleton 1991) and can be weaponised to create and maintain division between the standard and the non-standard, between ‘monolingual’ and ‘multilingual’ youth, ie. between those who belong and do not belong. Prescriptive, place-bound language can be insufficient to adequately communicate meaning for a young multilingual. To bell hooks (1989), language is a ‘place of struggle’ and, referring specifically to the Black vernacular spoken by African American communities, she writes, “it is no easy task to find ways to include our multiple voices within the various texts we create… those sounds and images that mainstream consumers find difficult to understand… which cannot be appropriated” (p. 16–17), to speak in “ a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination – a language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you” (p. 16). A multilingual’s use of language has the potential to positively transform the self-image of its user in contexts where derisive discourses of immigrants continue to operate (Zentella 1997). If a user’s starting point is simply to make meaning, “it is not central whether a speaker is switching languages, alternating between dialect and a national standard, register shifting, or speaking monolingually in a variety that highlights language contact” (Bailey 2012; p. 504). Asking or expecting a young multilingual person not to use or to limit the use of one or more of their languages is a denial of an integral part of their identity, as well as a denial of the means to feel safe, to feel recognised, to feel included, or to feel as though they belong. It is a denial of half or more of a repertoire of languages, which allows them to speak, read, write, connect to others, and make meaning of the world.

It must be acknowledged that some languages come to young people through the processes of colonisation (Tollefson 2000; Phillipson 1992). As such, they are imposed, rather than welcomed. Though they become integral parts of young people’s identities, they do not and cannot express all of who they are. Their relationships to language, therefore, are complicated. Languages can, at the same time, be both conflicting and a consolation. To be told the ‘correct’ way to pronounce a word, to be told to ‘go back to where you come from’ when speaking their home language on the train, to be asked to repeatedly take English tests to prove ‘fluency’: these are all ways in which culture and belonging are policed in young people’s lives at the everyday level as well as a sociopolitical level, through language. To continue to use hybrid forms of language, then, is a subversive act that pulls away from what Bakhtin (2010) terms ‘centripetal’ forces – forces that standardise and homogenise – and pushes towards ‘centrifugal’ positions, where non-standard, heterogenous, localised forms of language live, intertwined inseparably with the equally complex, distinct identities of the people that use them. bell hooks (1989) wrote, “I have been working to change the way I speak and write, to incorporate in the manner of telling a sense of place, of not just who I am in the present but where I am coming from, the multiple voices within me” (p. 16). Anzaldúa (2007), too, wrote, “don’t give me your tenets and your laws… if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture – una cultura mestiza – with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar” (p. 44). Her writing defies linguistic standards, much like hooks’. It is both poetry and prose, all at once, and code-switches between Spanish and English and is peppered with Indigenous Mexican languages, in the same way hooks uses African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

What hooks and Anzaldúa, amongst others, create is a precedent, which asserts that young multilinguals do not have to assimilate or fit society’s standards; that they do not have to choose between cultures or languages. They can choose to create and practice their own standards, their own cultures, their own languages. They can create entirely new spaces of connection and belonging: third spaces, if you will. Anzaldúa (2007) writes that “[l]iving in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland, is where poets write and artists create” (p. 95), turning oppression into art; the contestation, the problematic through which Bhabha (1994) contends culture emerges. They can choose these borderlands of cultural contradiction and/or connection, as a ‘place of radical openness’ (hooks 1989), acceptance, and authenticity. In this way, young multilinguals can challenge the hegemonic status quo and deconstruct the concept of a monolingual, unified, nation-state from below (Moyer and Martin-Rojo 2007; Lähdesmäki et al. 2021). They can challenge the notion that the usage and visibility of languages other than English threatens ‘Australianness’ and national unity (Blackledge and Creese 2014), as well as challenging the idea that the monolingual speaker is the ideological default (Urciuoli 2020). In doing so, they can find belonging amongst communities of others that also inhabit these borderlands.

Concluding Remarks

Despite its systemic monolingualism and monoculturalism, Australia continues to become more culturally and linguistically diverse. This means that a large group of young Australians navigate their daily lives between their home language/s and culture/s and the linguistic and cultural standards and expectations of Australian society. These are spaces where youth identities are innately heterogenous, innately complex; they are also spaces where young multilinguals’ belonging to the nation-state, to place, is contested, rendering them, in a sense, ‘placeless’, in a sort of limbo of unbelonging between their home country and Australia. As such, it is vital that a more inclusive and expansive model of belonging continues to be developed within the field of youth studies; a model which moves beyond conceptualising belonging as connected to place and, through this, aims to further decolonise and deconstruct simplistic binaries within the study of belonging.

This article proposes Homi Bhabha’s Third Space as a lens through which to expand our knowledge and understanding of the everyday practices of young multilinguals who negotiate their sense of belonging within the linguistic borderlands in which they dwell. Within the Third Space, the work of Bakhtin, hooks, and Anzaldúa – all of whom are themselves dwellers of these borderlands – help illuminate the complexity, creativity, and defiance that characterise this space. Through their revelations, it is evident that the Third Space is an innovative and productive space, where new youth culture/s and language/s are constructed and practiced, where new ways of youth belonging are brought into being. Third Space is a space of connection, and contradiction, where language and its use are fundamentally intertwined with the processes of authentic expression, identity and belonging. Potential avenues for future research in youth studies using Third Space include the exploration of the language practices and experiences of belonging and unbelonging of Indigenous youth, the ways in which cultural and linguistic hybridity is revealed and reproduced in art and literature about, by and for young people, as well as the ways in which these identities are enacted in digital spaces and in particular settings, such as in classrooms. In essence, Third Space theory has the potential to reveal the complexity and diversity of young people living in linguistic and cultural borderlands whilst also framing the borderlands, not as spaces of deficit, but radical, inclusive spaces that challenge and resist monolithic ideas of what it means to be a young ‘Australian’ today.