Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Banal Nationalism in ESL Textbooks

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Banal Nationalism in ESL Textbooks

Article excerpt


Despite repeating claims that Canadians are less nationalistic than members of other nations, English as a second language (ESL) textbooks often participate in banal repetitions of nation-ness and nationalism. This banal nationalism takes the form of the marking of nation through flags, maps, routine deixis, and nationalized symbols. This study examines markings of nation in 24 ESL textbooks used in government-funded language instruction in Canada. This nationalized imagery is both taught and repeated, making the imagined community ubiquitous. Language teachers should be aware of and reflect upon the everyday nationalism that is performed in ESL textbooks.

Key words: banal nationalism, TESL, language instruction, identity


Malgre l'affirmation repetee que les Canadiens sent moins nationalistes que les membres des autres nations, les manuels scolaires d'anglais langue seconde (ALS) participent souvent a des repetitions banales sur le nationalisme et la notion de nation. Ce << nationalisme ordinaire >> prend la forme d'une raise en valeur de la nation a travers des drapeaux, des cartes, et des symboles nationalises. Cette etude s'interesse a cette mise en valeur de la nation dans 24 manuels d'anglais langue seconde, utilises dans les programmes d'enseignement des langues, finances par le gouvernement au Canada. Ces images sent a la fois enseignees et repetees, rendant la communaute representee omnipresente. Les enseignants de langues doivent etre conscients et reflechir sur le nationalisme au quotidien qui est relaye dans les manuels d'anglais langue seconde.

Mots cles: nationalisme ordinaire, EALS, enseignement des langues, identite


Canadians are proud of their country but most would not describe themselves as patriotic flag-wavers. (Berish & Thibaudeau, 1998a, p. 6)

While Americans tend to fly their flag at the drop of the patriotic hat, Canadians don't have quite the same knee-jerk reaction to the Maple Leaf. (Gaetz, 2006, p. 5)

English as a Second Language (ESL) textbooks used in Canada construct an imagined community through banal repetition of the established tropes and symbols of Canadian identity. One such trope, ironically, is the claim that Canadians are not nationalist or, at least, are less nationalist than others. Such statements are ironic in that they positively construct a national identity through their denial of nationalism. Nationalism, such texts imply, is "a property of others" (Billig, 1995, p. 5).

Billig (1995) has noted that nationalist is a term generally reserved for those involved in the struggle to create new nations or secede from current ones. If one imagines a nation as it has already been imagined then one is not a nationalist. Billig (1995), however, argues that another form of nationalism predominates in many established nations--a cooler form of nationalism that he refers to as "banal nationalism." Billig (1995) argues that "these habits are not removed from everyday life, as some observers have supposed. Daily, the nation is indicated, or 'flagged,' in the lives of its citizenry" (p. 6).

It is these banal flaggings of nation that I attend to in this article in order to tease out the irony in statements to the effect of, "We, as Canadians, are not nationalist." I demonstrate that ESL textbooks used in government-funded language instruction in Canada, imagine Canada and frequently mark nation, thereby participating in a discourse that assumes nations to be objectively real and relevant to our lives.

Nation and TESOL

Increasingly, researchers of the teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) see learners as socially implicated and learning as a social process, drawing upon critical and post-structuralist theories of subjectivity, language, and power (Block, 2007; Canagarajah, 2006; Johnson, 2006; Kumaravadivelu, 2006; Nelson, 1999; Norton, 2006; Pennycook, 1999; Ramanathan, 2005). …

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