Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics

We recently published Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics edited by Clare Cunningham and Christopher J. Hall. In this post Clare explains how the book came about, as well as its main themes.

Our new edited book Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics was born out of the 2018 BAAL meeting held at York St John University. The theme was Taking Risks in Applied Linguistics, chosen in recognition of the need for focused discussion of risk in applied linguistics, given rapid change and consequent uncertainty both in world affairs and in the discipline itself. As we worked more on the book, though, it became clear that the theme of ‘risk’ often spilled over into the semantically related fields of ‘vulnerabilities’ and ‘challenges’. In the end, the contributors all approach the concepts of vulnerability, challenge and risk in different ways, playing with the multiple and nuanced meanings of the words.

At various points in the collection, risk is construed as an individual matter – perhaps the potential physical or psychological risks taken in innovative or even dangerous research, such as Kate Barber’s. Risk-taking can also be face-threatening or offer the potential for reputational damage, perhaps in the classroom, as explored by Sal Consoli and Michael Hepworth. Within our discipline, it can be risky to approach one’s writing in truly innovative ways, as Hanna Ennser-Kananen and Taina Saarinen do in their chapter, taking a flight of the imagination in Finland. But risk-taking is also institutional, in curriculum policy developments such as Liana Konstantinidou and Ursula Lanvers’ chapter. The risks of taking positive action such as these can be set in contrast to the risks of inaction, of not moving with the times, as Ursula Lanvers’ work on language policy in Anglophone countries shows.

The concept of vulnerability runs alongside these risks throughout the book. Individual researchers and teachers in applied linguistics make themselves vulnerable through innovative research design producing groundbreaking work as a result. But following Judith Butler’s lead, there is a tendency throughout the collection to acknowledge the value and affordances of vulnerabilities in marginalised communities for kick-starting the action and the work that leads to social change, as seen as Helen Sauntson’s, Luz Murillo’s, John Bosco Conama’s and Kristin Snoddon and Erin Wilkinson’s chapter.

The challenges faced in our society and for applied linguistics are well known – a lack of resources and of political will for change to deal with societal ‘wicked problems’. Applied Linguistics as a discipline also has the challenge of throwing off some of the shackles of the past and there remains much work to do to ensure that all voices are heard equally and respected. Of course, it was impossible for this collection to address all of the significant challenges of the future we face as a society. We only briefly (in our introduction) discuss the way the world has been affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic, and the even more pressing challenge of the climate emergency but we have hope that, with the examples of some of the fine research and practices in this book, our discipline is ready to offer what it can to tackle the impact of some of these immense challenges.

Clare Cunningham

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

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