A gap in the critical cultural and critical literacy research paradigm in foreign language teaching (FLT) and teaching Arabic as a foreign language (TAFL) at the college level in the U.S. context subsists. FLT and TAFL have been characterized by the prevalence of the communicative and proficiency-based pedagogies and their concomitant research frameworks. This prevalence is tied to the growing neoliberal and terror rhetoric in recent years (Kramsch, 2005; Bernstein et al., 2015). In the face of the latter, a need for critical cultural frameworks of teaching and research became plausible to deconstruct the different clichés and biases in the field, and namely in this study the stereotyping techniques that Arabs and Muslims have been experiencing since the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Morey & Yaqin, 2011; Kramsch, 2005). The end goal is to provide insights on Arabic teaching methodologies that are culturally responsive and inclusive.
I corresponded to the gap mentioned above through a critical deconstruction of the development of cultural representations across a variety of classroom discourses in an advanced college-level Arabic course. The study benefited from the critical ethnographic orientation for data collection, which entail field observations, writing detailed field notes, and conducting semi-structured interviews (Carspecken, 1996; Madison, 2012; Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 2011), critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 2003, 2008), and thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) for data analysis.
This study draws on interconnections between the concepts of discourse, ideology, and culture as well as the notions on intertextuality and genre. Discourse is the social expressions of language in use (Fairclough, 2008) and entails recurrent views. It is shaped by contextual elements that may hold heterogeneous beliefs or rather ideologies. Ideology, in turn, is an arrangement of notions concerned with justification of certain political mandates (Fairclough, 2008). Due to the recurrent nature of ideologies, they are a part of the everyday cultural repertoire. Culture is defined as the fluid socially and politically shaped beliefs and standpoints, that specific groups of people co-construct (Nieto, 2008). Accordingly, culture entails socially constructed configurations of ideologies. Further, the latter may be informed by particular dynamics of production, namely the influences of intertextuality, or in other words the types of past discourses that are drawn on in the discourse (Fairclough, 2008), and the instructional genre, or more precisely the goal-oriented social practice, around which instruction and activities are planned (Schleppegrell, 2010). These ideologically driven discourses can sustain the cultural viewpoints available in any given context.
In this study, I critically disclose the types of cultural representations that are constructed across different Arabic course’s discourses vis-à-vis the ideological discourses they expose and the macro and micro contextual elements that construe them. Relevantly, Fairclough’s model of CDA (2008) provides tools to linguistically approach texts, reveal their ideologically driven discourses, and their governing contextual elements.
Fairclough’s (2008) three-staged model of critical discourse analysis provides a thorough analytic lens to this study as it pins down how discourses are linguistically and ideologically framed vis-à-vis their macro contextual background. Fairclough’s model identifies:
1- How the text is meaningfully framed through a descriptive functional linguistic analysis (Schleppegrell, 2012). The functional linguistic analysis examines the meanings that languages and their constituents carry.
2- What the linguistic analysis means through a processing interpretive analysis.
3- How emergent meanings are ideologically contextualized through a social explanatory analysis.
Through employing CDA (Fairclough, 2008), I analyzed two reading texts, and two subsequent in-class debate activities. Through using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), I analyzed the students’ interviews in relation to their cultural engagements with the course’s materials. The questions I focused on are:
1- What cultural representations emerge in Arabic reading texts that are used for instruction in an advanced college-level Arabic course?
– How are they constructed?
– How are the focal texts’ emergent cultural representations informed by the macro contextual factors of neoliberalism and the terror rhetoric?
2- What cultural representations are constructed by students during in-class debate activities?
– How are they developed?
– How do the assigned reading texts inform them?
– How are they mediated by the dynamics of the instructional debate genre?
3- What are the factors that inform or interfere with the students’ cultural engagements?
Conclusions are concerned with six points: 1- Texts are ideological artifacts, and they potentially play a role in the augmentation of cultural stereotypes, 2- instructional genres may contribute to the development of cultural clichés, 3- students’ perceptions of Arab cultures may entail cultural decontextualization and labeling, 4- semantics and syntax might represent incentives as well as barriers for cultural growth, 5- goals for Arabic learning may range from economic to social and humanitarian incentives, and 6- the immersion and shared cultural experiences are potential means for cultural connections.
Findings suggest recommendations for foreign and Arabic language teaching and research that can enhance inclusive cultural engagements to challenge the cultural labeling dynamics and the neoliberal drive in the foreign language classroom context. The latter can be achieved via reading texts against the grain, deconstruction of the instructional genre, drawing on the immersion and personal experiences as means for all-encompassing cultural engagements, emphasizing non-neoliberal language learning goals, and reconceptualizing the learning of semantics and syntax in foreign language teaching.
Shaimaa Moustafa, Ph.D. in Languge, Literacy, and Culture
College of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst
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