The study on which this book is based has been born out of and marked by tensions and ambiguities. These tensions were present from the very start of the study and were part of the context in which it took place – a traditional university which was characterized by a strong adherence to the liberal humanist paradigm in language education, but operating in a wider context which emphasizes instrumental aims.
Tensions were also located in the actual pedagogy itself. Looking at texts as products, employing an approach to criticality which is rooted in the liberal humanist paradigm, i.e. that of taking critical distance, conflicts with the cultuurtekst level of looking at texts. The latter employs a poststructuralist critique, looking at multiple discourses in texts, which I referred to, following Pennycook (2001), as ‘discursive mapping’. This means looking at texts as a meaning-making process, whereby the cultural contexts of both the text producing environment, but also that of the reader, have a bearing on the interpretation. The tensions between these two perspectives led to some confusion where students critiqued the text on the one hand for its ideological positioning and on the other for its poor argumentation and structure.
I already referred earlier to the conflict embedded in my pedagogy of the centrality of discourses in the cultuurtekst approach and the concept of ‘Dutch articulation’. This particular tension led to students referring in discussions to wider global contexts and intertexts and their personal experience on the one hand, yet reverted to national stereotyping on the other.
These tensions, conflicts, resistances, and seeming incompatibilities not only formed the backdrop of the study but also inform my conclusion and point to the way forward. I am arguing that the different perspectives on text, educational philosophies, and criticality are not necessarily incompatible as such. After all, ambiguities are part and parcel of students’ everyday realities. They live with diversity, with supercomplexity, with cultural, linguistic, and philosophical tensions. One of the important conclusions of this study then is that language teaching needs to embrace these tensions if it is to develop pedagogies which acknowledge cultural complexities on the one hand and the existence of cultural patterns on the other.
In Chapter 1, whilst rejecting the tenets underpinning the liberal humanist paradigm, i.e. the assumptions of objectivity and truth, and its denial of humans as being, at least in part, shaped by cultural forces, I argued for a re-articulation of some of its concerns. These were located, I contended, in 1) the idea of criticality and intellectual engagement in language classes, 2) the notions of morality, which I interpret here as a concern for others, and 3) the importance of Self.
I have discussed the different perspectives on criticality in detail throughout this book as one of the tensions which I am embracing. The concern for others is an element which I did not purposefully include in my pedagogy, but it emerged naturally as students engaged with the text and its fictional characters in discussions. This concern for others also emerged in students’ writing as they showed an awareness of the other they were addressing. In a similar vein, the emphasis on Self and individual agency emerged, as students themselves engaged with the text and with one another explicitly referring to their own personal experiences.
In this way, the three elements which I highlighted contributed to and fed into one another. This criticality embedded in the cultuurtekst approach was then partly achieved through the intellectual engagement with the text and through a consideration of the analytical questions I had asked in class and the framework I used. However, it was equally the personal engagement as a group, the more intimate dialoguing with one another and relating the discussions to themselves that led to this criticality. The dialogic space in the classroom which students created themselves, opened up an imaginative, personal and intimate human perspective through which collaboration and exploration of ideas took place. In doing so, students showed empathy and placed themselves into the shoes of others and into their future imagined selves. It was through sympathetic imagination that critical interculturality started to take place.