Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pennycook: Critical Applied Linguistics - A Critical Introduction. A Critique

Alastair Pennycook takes us on a very personal voyage of where he thinks a Critical approach to applied linguistics should take us. Along the way he is quite critical (small c) of a large number of applied linguistics, including Critical (large C) Linguists.
Pennycook is less than sympathetic towards writers that would consider themselves Critical Discourse Analysts, such as Fairclough. He thinks that Fairclough just isn't Critical enough, but he saves most of his scorn for Widdowson. It seems as though Widdowson has just stumbled onto the topic of critical linguistics via Google, and believes his gravitas should be sufficient to allow him full vent of his opinions. Pennycook viciously deconstructs all of the false dichotomies that Widdowson applies to Critical linguistics, and reveals that Widdowson really does not understand what the real issues are. It seems that Fairclough was let off lightly!
However, Pennycook's view of Critical (i.e. Critical Theory, i.e. modern Marxism) is not really that clear, either. Perhaps the only person that is not saved from Pennycook's rejection of claims to Critical Applied Linguistics is Foucault, whose brand of critical theory is obviously admired by Pennycook. Finally, Pennycook suggests how a Critical approach to applied linguistics might change the language learning classroom.
In all of Pennycook's carefully constructed arguments, however, I found one important thing missing: Linguistics. Despite his disregard for Fairclough's linguistic analysis, Pennycook offers no new way to analyse how language may actually work in real texts to support the very detailed power structures described in his neo-Foucaultian framework. When I see such models I may be less critical of his view of Critical Applied Linguistics.

How did you know this is another cheap shot? Yes, it's a Goodreads review I'd almost forgotten, but as I'm going to UTS, (Pennycook's stomping ground), I thought I'd dust it off and give it an airing.

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