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Criticality and Culture: My Own Considerations

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    When I initially started to develop the Dutch language course on which this study is based in the mid-1990s, one of my prime motivations was to introduce an intellectual and critical element to the course. I discussed the motivations for this in the introduction. At the time, criticisms against a national approach had not yet arisen in the pedagogical literature, except as a rejection of the ultimate aim of language learning to emulate ‘the native speaker’. The cultural content element of language teaching courses was largely limited to the national. My own discomfort with the national approach, honesty demands me to say, was at the time not theoretically motivated, but was the result of practical considerations. Wanting to introduce a critical element into language and culture teaching based on the practice of asking students to discuss intellectually stimulating topics, rather than only providing information, I found, unsurprisingly, that most topics relating to culture and society had international relevance. In discussing environmental issues, for instance, students would automatically introduce perspectives, angles and examples which were related to their own experiences, and to discourses with which they were familiarised through their own varied contexts of living. But rather than taking a comparative perspective, it soon appeared through these discussions that the discourses on which students, or the articles I presented them with, drew, were not limited to national situations or viewpoints, but rather to global ones. The differences between perspectives were not informed by nationality, but by ideological and general worldviews which crossed borders.

    So from starting out to address critical skills at the level of ‘critical thinking’, or questioning skills, which is located in a humanist educational perspective, I arrived through pragmatic considerations at, what Risager calls, the transnational perspective. I conceptualized this as ‘global discourses’, but since national political situations impact global debates, I also conceived of the notion of ‘national articulations’ within these discourses. I will develop this idea further below.

    What I had conceptualized at the time, was that culture, language and communication were infinitely more complex and fluid than most language and culture courses allowed and that the criticality for which I aimed needed to go beyond the questioning skills of ‘critical thinking’. The criticality that was needed to understand how meaning is created, which discourses come into being, why and how, and generally to understand the processes of meaning-making, demanded a different ontological view of culture pedagogy.

    An information-based approach would not suffice. A better option for the language and culture teacher would be to address culture in terms of its wider definition and see cultural products and practices in relation to the meaning-making processes that inform them. I found this in the Cultural Studies approach.

    This page titled Criticality and Culture: My Own Considerations is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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