Getting to #15

Series editor Alastair Pennycook writes about how the Critical Language and Literacy Studies series began and how his own book is the latest to be published in the series.

We have just published the 15th book in our Critical Language and Literacy Studies series, a fact that fills me with a mixture of pride, surprise, satisfaction, and exhaustion. It’s also with slightly mixed emotions – again some pride and surprise but also a bit of embarrassment and the usual insecurity, oh, and exhaustion too – that I should confess that book #15 in the series is my own, Language and Mobility: Unexpected Places (more of which later).

Given that the first book, Collaborative Research in Multilingual Classrooms (Denos, Toohey, Neilson and Waterstone) was only published in 2009, that’s a lot of books in a short period. Our goal was to bring different critical perspectives (with a focus on power and new ways of thinking about language) to studies of multilingualism, and to encourage work by new authors and from new contexts.

The series was not conceived as being based around normative critical approaches to linguistic diversity (focusing on the assumed benefits of multilingualism, for example, or orienting towards language maintenance), but instead aimed to open up questions of linguistic diversity in relation to broader political concerns. Several critical features therefore distinguish this series: Throughout, there is a strong focus on race, gender, class, colonialism, and other forms of disadvantage and discrimination, as well as a readiness to take on difficult topics. The ways these come together can be seen in books such as Laurel Kamada’s Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls: Being ‘Half’ in Japan, Christina Higgins and Bonny Norton’s edited Language and HIV/AIDS, Nasser, Berlin and Wong’s edited book, Examining Education, Media and Dialogue under Occupation: The Case of Palestine and Israel, or Andrea Sterzuk’s The Struggle for Legitimacy: Indigenized Englishes in Settler Schools.

Gender is a strong focus in Kamada’s book, as well as Ros Appleby’s ELT, Gender and International Development: Myths of Progress in a Neocolonial World, Julia Menard-Warwick’s Gendered Identities and Immigrant Language Learning or Christina Higgins’ English as a Local Language: Post-colonial Identities and Multilingual Practices. And watch out for another exciting book on the way: Kimie Takahashi’s Language Learning, Gender and Desire: Japanese Women on the Move.  Questions of class, poverty, access and literacy are given various treatments in Gregorio Hernandez-Zamora’s Decolonizing Literacy: Mexican Lives in the Era of Global Capitalism, Chris Stroud and Lionel Wee’s Style, Identity and Literacy: English in Singapore, and Inge Kral’s Talk, Text and Technology: Literacy and Social Practice in a Remote Indigenous Community.  Interwoven with these themes are significant concerns to do with immigration, indigenous communities, development, language ideologies, identity, technology, pedagogy and the media.

Although we have included books that critically explore the role of English in multilingual contexts, we’ve carefully avoided doing yet another book on the global spread of English or its varieties. Rather, when books have focused on English, central concerns have been on English as a local language in the multilingual contexts of East Africa (Higgins), language ideologies of English in Philip Seargeant’s The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language, English in relation to identity in China, in China and English: Globalisation and the Dilemmas of Identity (Lo Bianco, Orton and Gao, Eds) or English and globalization, Contending with Globalization in World Englishes (Saxena & Omoniyi, eds).  We have also tried to ensure that all the books in the series are theoretically strong, well researched, and, crucially, readable.

We have aimed to achieve a fairly wide coverage of contexts, including Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, East Timor, Israel/Palestine, India, Uganda, Burkina Faso, South Africa, West Africa, Iran, Bulgaria, China, Japan and Singapore, as well as indigenous communities in Australia and Canada and immigrant communities in the USA. Clearly, there’s scope for much more diversity and wider coverage.  One final aspect of this series to which we have given serious attention is the prefaces. Taking the view that prefaces are far more than introductions, and noting that they are a fairly unregulated genre, we have worked hard on the prefaces as collaborative texts, and have taken the opportunity not only to locate the books within a wider field but also to draw attention to important points about critical approaches to language and literacy that matter to us.

So, finally, back to book #15, Language and Mobility: Unexpected PlacesI set out to do several things: to explore the themes of languages turning up in unexpected places (and why things may be unexpected), and language and mobility; to try out different styles of writing – there are travel stories, personal anecdotes, poems (not by me, thank heavens), and personal and familial history (such as my own exploration of my grandparents’ lives in India).

How well all this works, whether this hangs together, whether it appears indulgent or superficial, too linked to personal and affective histories, or whether these connections between the personal and political by contrast shed more light than other approaches to these topics, will be for the reader to decide. But I’ve used this opportunity to write about a range of topics of interest to me, including colonial India, intercultural communication, native speakers, cricket and Cornish. I hope readers find some thought-provoking ideas here, and if not, there are 14 other books in this series to enjoy, and more on the way, including upcoming books on linguistic landscapes in Antwerp (the first book in the series to focus on a European context, though a focus on the linguistic landscape of any such European city also points in many non-European directions), domestic workers from the Philippines  (bringing together issues of gender, migration, class, language policy and lots more), and literacy practices in West Africa (literacies, languages, graffiti, and many things besides). Stay tuned.

Alastair Pennycook

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