Sunday, November 16, 2008

Keywords for Prof. Alastair Pennycook's Critical Applied Linguistics #6

3 Key Concepts

3.1 Critical

The very term of "critical" can be controversial, for it is often the case in the real world that the self-acclaimed "critical" person is indeed a very dogmatic person or the one who refuses any form of criticism on him or her.

One important intellectual source of the concept of "critical" is from Kant.

Especially in philosophical contexts it is influenced by Kant's use of the term to mean a reflective examination of the validity and limits of a human capacity or of a set of philosophical claims and has been extended in modern philosophy to mean a systematic inquiry into the conditions and consequences of a concept, theory, discipline, or approach and an attempt to understand its limitations and validity. A critical perspective, in this sense, is the opposite of a dogmatic one.

In the quotation above, we find "reflective" as an important word. "Reflection" has become an important word since the publication of The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schön (often spelled as "Schon.")

Donald Schon's third great contribution was to bring ‘reflection’ into the centre of an understanding of what professionals do. The opening salvo of The Reflective Practitioner (1983) is directed against ‘technical-rationality’ as the grounding of professional knowledge. Usher et. al. (1997: 143) sum up well the crisis he identifies. Technical-rationality is a positivist epistemology of practice. It is ‘the dominant paradigm which has failed to resolve the dilemma of rigour versus relevance confronting professionals’. Donald Schon, they claim, looks to an alternative epistemology of practice ‘in which the knowledge inherent in practice is be understood as artful doing’ (op. cit.). Here we can make a direct link between Donald Schon and Elliot Eisner’s (1985; 1998) interest in practitioners as connoisseurs and critics (see Eisner on evaluation).
We can link this process of thinking on our feet with reflection-on-action. This is done later - after the encounter. Workers may write up recordings, talk things through with a supervisor and so on. The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did, what was happening in a group and so on. In so doing we develop sets of questions and ideas about our activities and practice.

The term "reflective practice" is also used in this context.

It may be interesting to try to relate Schon's "reflection" to the arguments concerning "practical reason."

Although it is very important to admit the role of (self-) reflection in the epistemology of practitioners, our notion of "reflective" in relation to "critical" is slightly different.

"Critical" in this book is more related to "critical" as in "Critical Theory."
Refer back to #2 of this series of articles.

However, Pennycook on many occasions distances himself from the tenets expressed by "Critical Theory." His point seems to be that "Critical Theory" may sometimes assume its righteousness too innocently (and perhaps arrogantly). 

Perhaps we need a "critical Critical Theory," not just "Critical Theory." Here, it seems to me, the notion of "self-reflection" in the sense of "self-referential" and "autological" criticism may be very important.

"Self-reference" is a phenomenon of something referring to itself. It is sometimes a source of a paradox, but in this context of the argument I emphasize the aspect of a criticism being applied to itself.

Certainly, if you criticize something else and argue that the criticism is valid, you yourself have to be criticized as you did to something else. If you cannot survive that test, something must be very wrong; either you are simply too hostile to that something, or you are merely thoughtless about yourself.

"Self-referential" can be expressed by another term "autological," a term Luhmann liked. In the sense Luhmann used the term, an autological theory is a theory that explains not only the explanadum (something that is to be explained) but also the theory itself (something that explains). See the quotation below.

Luhmann's enterprise is to construct an autological social theory, i.e. a theory which is sufficiently complex to imply itself, to describe itself in the course of describing its objects of investigation.

So, what we mean by "critical" can be expressed by a phrase like "critically critical," "self-referentially critical," or sometimes "autologically critical.".

If you try to be too "self-reflective," giving the term its full potentialities, you may feel too burdened with the pressure of avoiding ANY type of possible criticisms and end up writing nothing. That's not the option I recommend. Make the hurdle lower; if you can survive your own criticism you make to others, that's fine, at least for the time being. This is a compromise I suggest for doing a critical study (or a critical(ly) critical study.

Having confirmed our principle, let's have a look (again) at the ramifications of the use of "critical":

Critical theory

Critical pedagogy

Critical psychology

"Critical" in the context of this book is not, at least directly, related to so-called "critical thinking."

3.2 Politics

Read the following Japanese articles on Arendt's philosophy of politics.

私はなぜCritical Applied Linguisticsを教えるのか





仲正昌樹 (2009) 『今こそアーレントを読み直す』 (講談社現代新書)

E・ヤング=ブルエール著、矢原久美子訳 (2008) 『なぜアーレントが重要なのか』みすず書房



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