Commodification of English and the rise of ELT industries: riding on discourses of global importance of English

Widin (2010), in a critique of international English education projects, draws attention to the increasing commodification and corporatisation of English and notes that many projects that are ostensibly intended to provide high-quality English teaching, in actuality have as their goal the enhancement of “inner circle countries” (Kachru 1996) as providers of education and training in countries that are characterised as having a small number of native English speakers. In other words, the economic advancement of neo-imperial nations at the expense of postcolonial countries and societies in which English has never had any governmental or official role. Widin questions the role of universities, aid agencies and English teachers in the exploitation of countries that are not considered “inner circle countries.”

As colonial desire has evolved in the contemporary context, English has been characterised not only as prestigious but also as integral to economic advancement. Wee (2003) has critiqued global discourses of “linguistic instrumentalism,” which highlight, perhaps disproportionately, the importance of English language skills for economic advancement and social mobility. Kubota (2011) has described the ways in which neoliberal linguistic instrumentalism was implicated in social stratification, which ultimately shaped the futures of the Japanese adults in her study more than did their language skills. Song (2011) describes how the internal sociopolitical elites of South Korea attempt to set up English as a gatekeeping cultural capital in social mobility through constructing the importance of English in the “English as official language” discourses when in fact the majority of the population and industries in South Korea can function well using the Korean language.

Appleby (2013) further describes the ways in which many ordinary white males become constructed as “charisma men” and are desired by Japanese female students when they become ESL teachers in Japan. Appleby explores the ways in which this positioning commodifies their race, gender and colonial identities and undercuts the value of their pedagogical and disciplinary expertise and professional identities. These white male teachers are forced (often by the profit-making ELT institutes) into commodified subject positions with which they feel increasingly uncomfortable. In Singapore, local varieties of English are consistently denigrated (Rubdy 2005). The observations made by Appleby (2013), Kubota (2011), Song (2011) and Rubdy (2005) call for some form of critical intervention that crosses the boundaries of colonised or coloniser, as both parties are being affected and positioned by such a historical—but contemporarily relevant—logic of domination of colonial varieties of English.

However, before we can consider possible ways of interrupting the current domination of certain varieties of English (vis a vis other languages and other varieties of English), let us first consider the theoretical insights offered by Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and Chen Kuan-Hsing with the of aim of understanding how the current situation has been historically formed and is continuously reproduced through the working of both historical and contemporary institutions, discourses, and knowledge and subjectivity production mechanisms.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >