Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Reconceptualizing Cosmopolitanism in Language and Literacy Education: Insights from a Singapore School

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Reconceptualizing Cosmopolitanism in Language and Literacy Education: Insights from a Singapore School

Article excerpt


The reemergence of the construct of cosmopolitanism in fields such as education, sociology, and cultural studies has prompted Hull and Stornaiuolo (2010) to de- scribe this interest in cosmopolitanism as a "cosmopolitan turn." Within literacy education, Campano and Ghiso (2011) have called for teachers to cultivate a stance of cosmopolitanism as they work with immigrant students situated within hetero- geneous 21st-century classrooms. Overall, the recent adoption of cosmopolitanism as an analytic tool in literacy education warrants a review of how cosmopolitanism has been framed. This review is timely in the wake of contemporary transcultural flows that characterize globalization, the emergence of a neoliberal order in edu- cation, and a pressing need to address issues of educational inequity surrounding immigrant learners whose home languages may not be valued in classrooms. These developments also need to be viewed against a changing linguistic landscape, which has included a global rise in the use of English (Graddol, 2006). This rise has complicated how cosmopolitanism should be conceptualized because English is often seen as a tool that fosters cosmopolitanism (Ramanathan, 2012).

Taking these developments into consideration, this paper reports on part of a research project which investigated the linguistic practices of five immigrant stu- dents from neighboring Asian countries enrolled in an English-medium Singapore secondary school. My focus is on how a student from Vietnam used English as a lingua franca (ELF) to interact with her Singaporean peers. The theoretical con- struct framing this paper is cosmopolitanism, which itself is open to different and sometimes conflicting interpretations. By examining how cosmopolitanism was invoked and enacted at my research school site, I demonstrate how the construct of cosmopolitanism can inform language and literacy education.

Cosmopolitanism Matters

Ever since the Greek Stoic, Diogenes, described himself publicly as a "kosmopo- lite" (i.e., a citizen of the world) and urged his compatriots to look beyond local commitments and embrace larger horizons of concern (Hansen, 2010), and fol- lowing a strong revival by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, cosmopolitanism has been interpreted through various lenses. In this section, I briefly review how cosmopolitanism has been examined in the extant literature.

The literature on cosmopolitanism (e.g., Delanty, 2006; Hansen, 2010) reflects the contrasting perspectives on this construct. Hansen (2010), in particular, pro- vides guidance on examining cosmopolitanism from a moral, political, and cultural perspective. Moral cosmopolitanism, according to Hansen (2010), is guided by a set of ideals which attempts to forge a "global culture of open-mindedness" (p. 2). The individual is therefore expected to look beyond the community in which he or she is born or lives. Hansen (2010) sees political cosmopolitanism as being related to becoming a "citizen of the world," while describing cultural cosmopolitanism as encompassing "an intermingling of people, ideas, and activities in many parts of the world" (p. 3). In my view, these three perspectives on cosmopolitanism, which emphasize keeping an open mind and holding others in mutual regard in an increasingly globalized world, constitute a strong stance on cosmopolitanism. In this stance, the individual is positioned by larger, overdetermined institutions such as the state and school. When the cosmopolitan disposition the individual ought to develop and possess is stipulated, the individual's agency is consequently backgrounded. Further, such a stance on cosmopolitanism also ignores an endur- ing tension of having to reconcile a nationalistic sentiment with a level of open- mindedness and mutual regard. It is this tension which is discussed next.

Invoking the Stoics of ancient Greece, who stressed that to be a citizen of the world need not be at the expense of local identifications, Nussbaum (1996) as- serts that these apparent binaries are reconcilable. …

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