Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice

Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice

Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice

Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice


Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice is the first book to combine the theory and practice of two fields: English for academic purposes and critical pedagogy. English for academic purposes (EAP) grounds English language teaching in the cognitive and linguistic demands of academic situations, tailoring instruction to specific rather than general purposes. Critical pedagogy acknowledges students' and teachers' subject-positions, that is, their class, race, gender, and ethnicity, and encourages them to question the status quo. Critical English for academic purposes engages students in the types of activities they are asked to carry out in academic classes while inviting them to question and, in some cases, transform those activities, as well as the conditions from which they arose. It takes into account the real challenges non-native speakers of English face in their discipline-specific classes while viewing students as active participants who can help shape academic goals and assignments. Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics, and Practice: * relates English for academic purposes and critical pedagogy, revealing and problematizing the assumptions of both fields, * provides theoretical and practical responses to academic syllabi and other institutional demands to show that teachers can both meet target demands and take students' subjectivities into account in a climate of negotiation and possibility, * offers "rights analysis" as a critical counterpart to needs analysis, * discusses the politics of "coverage" in lecture classes and proposes alternatives, and * features teaching examples that address balancing the curriculum for gender; building community in an EAP class of students from diverse economic and social backgrounds; students' rights; and organizing students to change unfavorable conditions. This book is intended for undergraduate and graduate courses for preservice and in-service ESL and EAP teachers. It is also a professional book for those interested in critical approaches to teaching and EAP.


English for specific purposes (ESP) has tended to be a practical affair, most interested in investigating needs, preparing teaching materials, and devising appropriate teaching methodologies. Perhaps because of the early British influences on its development, it has avoided broad questions of theory, and, as Swales (1994) suggests in his final editorial in ESP's flagship journal, English for Specific Purposes, articles published in that journal are “strikingly unengaged” (p. 201) by controversial issues of ideology.

ESP practice has thus remained essentially pragmatic; practitioners have interpreted their role as attempting to provide the maximum possible support in the limited time available. Although the worldwide role of English may be recognised at one level, at the day-to-day level, ESP teachers often find themselves in situations where they have to compete for timetable slots and students' attention. In these circumstances, priority has been given to discovering the expectations of the academic or professional community of which the students of the ESP class aspire to become full members and then reducing that information to teachable units taught over a specified and often limited time period.

This tendency to pragmatism was also considerably justified in the early days of the ESP movement by the need to justify its approach to those sceptical of its focus on selected specific features of the language. ESP defended its approach through the claim that it was more efficient and cost-effective than more traditional teaching approaches based on a general coverage of the language system. ESP has not, however, been unwilling to consider more ideological issues: The role of English in international publications has been much discussed (and criticised) in recent years and the burgeoning influence of social constructionism on ESP has raised important questions about its approaches to genre analysis. Indeed, the very pragmatic nature of ESP has, I believe, led to a readiness to draw on new ideas, and review its practices where necessary.

The rise of critical theory and critical approaches to discourse and to pedagogy has raised much more fundamental questions about ESP practice. Issues such as the role of English in publication and social constructionism are important but do not interrogate the fundamental tenets of ESP. These critical approaches, on the other hand, question the assumptions of traditional needs analysis and pragmatism that underpin . . .

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