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Towards a Theory of the Personal and the Critical: Embracing Incompatibilities

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    The practical examples of the language tasks above, which combine an ethical, individual as well as a critical perspective with vocational concerns is not meant to be a simple marrying of liberalist and instrumentalist approaches. The accentuation of cosmopolitan and ethical concerns which may have found its origin in the liberal humanistic paradigm transcends that particular philosophical perspective, and can just as easily be taken on board by the poststructuralist critical perspective of discursive mapping.

    The seeming incompatibility and tensions which underpin this study in the perceived philosophical conflicts in many of the concepts I have been advocating is perhaps not as much of a problem as is sometimes assumed. In this I am reminded of the term Romantic Conceptualism, an art scholarly term, described in 2006 by the Dutch critic Jan Verwoert to refer to conceptual art. The two terms are not as incompatible as they seem. Conceptual art, whether installation, video, or performance, is often associated with a cold intellectual approach to art and rigorous attention to the simplicity of form. However, many conceptual art pieces do in fact frequently draw attention to the actual processes of producing meaning, relying on memories and expression of emotion. The conceptual is thus being romanticized. In a similar way an intellectual engagement with text, language and writing can draw on the actual processes of meaning-making and include personal reflections, creativity, a concern for others, and relating one’s own every day communicative experiences to the wider cultural forces.

    We are at the turning point of another shift in language teaching. One which affords a greater role for personal stories and self-exploration. The call for romanticism as a new paradigm has been mooted by Ros i Solé and Fenoulhet (2013) who propose a ‘Romantic turn’ in language learning, emphasizing an engagement with learners’ subjectivities, emotions and an acknowledgment of the discomfort of interculturality.

    In the seeming incompatibility of the personal and the critical, I am reminded of the traditional Sufi image which Elif Shafak (2011) conjures up of the upside-down tree, extending its roots in the air. Its life force, its cultural environment, is provided by the arc of the vast blue sky full of the promise of possibilities. In a similar way, our students feed on this vastness to create their own stories as they go about their journey: critical, accepting, adopting, adapting, making choices, and creating their own stories of belongings.

    This page titled Towards a Theory of the Personal and the Critical: Embracing Incompatibilities is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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