Vol. 5. No. 4 R-6 March 2002
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

Critical English For Academic Purposes

Sarah Benesch (2001)
New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Pp. v + 161
ISBN 0-8058 3434-6 (paper)
US$18.50 (Also available in cloth, US$39.95

See: http://www.erlbaum.com/Books/searchintro/BookDetailscvr.cfm?ISBN=0-8058-3434-6

Critical English for Academic Purposes claims to combine the theory and practice of EAP with that of critical pedagogy. It is a course book aimed at undergraduate and graduate students of ESL and EAP whose training may be in-service or pre-service. This also includes anyone who may be interested in critical pedagogy. Benesch has based her discussion around her own action/autoethnographic research carried out in her role of teacher. This method of research has its merits although the implementation of the research methodology does not make the issue of reflexivity explicit.

According to Benesch (2001) 'critical pedagogy is concerned with institutional power relations'. She believes that 'critical pedagogy acknowledges students' and teachers' subject positions', for example, their class, race, gender and ethnicity. She also believes that students should be encouraged and allowed to shape their academic goals and the way they reach them.

She believes that the teaching and design of EAP has been pragmatic and in general has been a response to the needs of content courses offered in academic institutions. Her general concern appears to be for the position of ESL students rather than EFL where students learn in their own cultural environment. She sees the role of the ESL teacher as being that of 'instructor' rather than 'educator'. As a result the important roles of facilitator of learning and negotiator of the developmental process and course outcomes are not explicitly addressed.

She discusses the history of EAP and how, in her opinion, it has included needs analysis, skills-based courses, linked analysis and genre analysis and less so register analysis and rhetorical analysis. She thinks the emphasis has been on curriculum and instruction and less so on research and theory. The discussion is detailed but appears to focus on the situation in the US to the neglect of others. Disappointingly she fails to take herself and her research out of her own context.

For Benesch (2001) EAP is about form, cognitive processes and institutional practices. When discussing rhetorical analysis, she disagrees with Widdowson who states that knowledge is constant and students can use that knowledge in their own language to help with the second language. She believes that knowledge is socially constructed and therefore learning too. The implication being that learning communities create a body of knowledge through discussion and sharing that may be used in the future and in turn empower that community. (Wenger, 1998; Flood, 1999).

In the section on target situation analysis, Benesch's main concern appears to be institutions and academics lack of consideration of a student's social background. Throughout, she stresses the idiosyncratic nature of academia and refers to Horowitz (1986) who stressed the need for controlled practice of the kinds of text that students would require for academic study while rejecting the need for writing skills that professional writers might employ such as drafting redrafting and editing.

When discussing genre analysis, she acknowledges that genres do take social purposes into account and refers to Bhatia (1993) who focuses on discourse analysis and Hyon (1996) who looks at the wider context of function of text.

Unfortunately, she dismisses Australian research as being focussed on school and workplace genres rather than academic and professional genres and although she acknowledges the desire to 'empower' students by teaching them the correct genres, she fails to acknowledge the role of Halliday in developing the importance of 'context of culture' and context of situation' and in fact fails to mention him or his work at all. The notions of field, tenor and mode are ignored as is the role they could play in negotiated syllabus design. The notion of audience and purpose allows for social context, while field, tenor and mode allow for who is speaking to whom, how and in what context. She needs to examine genre based approaches in more detail.

She also discusses the economic roots of EAP and states that it was the result of 'efforts of governments and private companies to promote English worldwide for political and commercial purposes'. In chapter 4 she stresses the need for 'hope'. She endorses Freiran's (1994) notion that 'education is a struggle to improve human existence, not a set of techniques to carry out institutional goals'. As has been noted over the centuries, learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history (Carl Rowan).

She sees the need for a political and ethical pedagogy but thinks this cannot be achieved by teachers with their own agendas. Instead she would like to see a 'dialogic process' taking place in institutions in a local context. By this she means a pedagogy based on consultation with students. She would also like to see pedagogy that discusses feminism (see Weiler, 1994) and other issues such as race, as well as the ideas of oppression versus liberation.

She then goes on to discuss 'needs analysis vs rights analysis' In her view, 'Rights, unlike needs, are political and negotiable' (Benesch, 2001). She sees the need to develop an ethics of EAP which would include the roles of EAP teachers, needs versus rights, inclusion versus exclusion of non-elite students, and EAP as academic and workplace preparation and students' roles in their own education. We suggest that there be a greater focus on learning rather than teaching, based on learning as a developmental socially constructed process (see Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder; in press).

We think she has opened up an excellent discussion but because of the critical nature of her text, it feels more like a 'cook's tour' rather than a focussed discussion at times. The book would be stronger if there were more attention to the work of Halliday, Hasan, and Martin. We believe the book does not demonstrate sufficient awareness of Hallidayan systemic linguistics and how it can be applied in a teaching context. Benesch (2001) also seems to be unaware that the idea of negotiating a syllabus is becoming increasingly widespread in postgraduate education and in any outcomes based academic institutions such as Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates or the University of Glamorgan in Wales.

We agree with Benesch that EAP was and still is pragmatic. Courses based on text analysis do allow for some negotiation and an outcomes based curriculum should also permit discussion of ways to reach those outcomes and the developmental process. Benesch has raised many important issues that are worthy of further research and discussion.

Bibliography

Benesch, S. (2001) Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, Politics and Practice. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Cope, B. & Kalantzis M. (1993) The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach To Teaching Writing London: Falmer Press

Ellis, C. (1991). Sociological introspection and emotional experience. Symbolic Interaction. 14, 23-50.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. (2000) . Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N. Denzin, & Y. Lincoln (2000). Handbook of qualitative research. (2nd ed.), CA: Sage.

Flood, R. L. (1999). Rethinking the fifth discipline: Learning within the unknowable. London: Routledge.

Halliday M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday M. A. K. & Martin J. R. (1993) Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power London: Falmer Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice, learning meaning and identity. Cambridge: CUP.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W (in press) Cultivating Communities of Practice: a Guide to Managing Knowledge to be published by Harvard Business School Press

Widdowson H.G. (1991) Aspects of Language Teaching Oxford: OUP

Lauren Stephenson   Jill Cook
Zayed UniversityUniversity of Glamorgan
United Arab EmiratesWales
<lauren_stephenson@zu.ac.ae><jcook5@glam.ac.uk>

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page
[-1-]