A Political Approach to LTI as an Analytical Framework
While Barkhuizen’s (2016) composite conceptualisation of LTI served as a starting point for our initial exploration of ULTRs, Clarke’s “identity
ULTRs’ Professional Identity and Agency 57 work” framework provided us with a way to move beyond definitions into the (unfinalisable) process of identity formation. This framework, in turn, provided us with a way to articulate and enact our data collection methods and approaches to the (re)assembling of these data for analysis. In this context, we were concerned with the need to hone in on the political dimension of our study and our engagement with “identity work”. Indeed, while many overlapping dimensions in the theoretical grounding provided by Barkhuizen’s conceptualisation and Clarke’s framework are subject to and influenced by power relations, these are not explicitly examined in terms of their political implications. We discuss LCE’s political and ethical engagement in more detail in the following chapter, however, at this point, it is important to highlight its role in the framing of our study and, more specifically, the analysis of our data.
Acknowledging the centrality of the ethico-political dimension of language teachers’ identity formation has become an imperative in our field. Kubanyiova and Crookes (2016) highlight the current turn towards value-oriented, moral and ethical dimensions in LTI and remind us of Morgan and Clarke’s characterisation of this turn as “perhaps the most significant development in language teacher identity research” (2011, p. 825). Yet, with the exception of Kramsch and Zhang (2018), little research has emerged exploring how this turn is realised from the perspective of languages teachers and, more specifically, ULTRs, within the everyday reality of the language classroom. Indeed, very little is known about the processes involved in language teachers’ evolving positioning as critical educators and their development of an ethical, political stance. Kubota (2016, p. 214) has stressed that more research is needed in LCE:
It is worth investigating how critical language teachers develop, alter, or rearrange their identities, especially when they are confronted by ideological conflicts or other ethical challenges in the classroom or elsewhere. (...) Examining critical language teacher identity shifts will illuminate the fluid nature of their understanding of criticality, freeing critical pedagogy from its dogmatic tendency and advancing theoretical and practical explorations of critical language teaching.
A number of studies have responded to Kubota’s persuasive call to action by drawing on narrative and critical autoethnographic methodologies. A clear example of this, particularly relevant for ULTRs, is Häusler et al.’s (2018) paper, which presents narratives relating to the authors’ -self-defined as researcher-practitioners in applied linguistics - personal experiences and their emerging political identity in the academy. Their methodology is “inspired by collective memory-work, a research framework with transformative aspirations that integrates narrative writing with group analysis and dissolves the boundaries between theory and method as well as researcher and research participants” (p. 282).
According to Zembylas and Chubbuck (2018), a political approach to teacher identity (1) blurs the boundaries between the usually separated “personal” and “professional” and (2) enhances the interrelationship “between larger social forces (macro-political level) and the internal psychic terrain of the individual and his or her working conditions (micro-political level)” (p. 190). Here we find a clear line of convergence between current theorisations in the field of education in general and language education in particular. As Zembylas and Chubbuck (2018, p. 189) highlight:
... the reciprocal relationship between politics and teacher identity not only underlines the significance of the political domain in the construction and maintenance of teacher professional identity, but it also recognises the potential to subvert normalising practices, discourses and identities in schools.
Zembylas and Chubbuck’s political approach to teacher identity foregrounds the assemblages of cultural, ideological and historical power relations in which these identities are articulated. Both the written pen-portraits and the interviews provided spaces for “identity work” in a tertiary LCE environment. We approached the data generated by these spaces through a combination of Clarke’s four axes of ongoing teacher identity formation and used Zembylas and Chubbuck’s work to scaffold the analysis of key emerging themes within these axes.