Publication details [#60872]

Jaspers, Jurgen. 2016. Crisis thinking, sensuous reflexivity, and solving real issues. AILA Review 29 (1) : 199–213.
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Article in journal
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John Benjamins
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The focus on social mobility in this issue must be applauded from a perspective that problematises social inequality. Yet it must be underlined too that deploring the absence of such mobility as an “unhappy ending” (cf. Patiño-Santos 2016) and seeking to find out how non-privileged students can swim against the educational current in principle accepts inequality as something that individuals must escape (for example, through long-term study), and idealises middle- or upper-class identity as an aspiration for others (cf. Reay et al. 2008). Applied and sociolinguistics will eventually have to come to terms as well with the insight that, as a number of sociologists have been arguing, educational policy has had relatively little or no influence on social mobility beyond school walls (Freeman-Moir & Scott 2003; Moore 2007; Reay 2010; also see Marsh 2011). This is in spite of the widely shared conviction, among policy makers, pedagogues and linguists, that introducing the right type of language (pedagogy) at school will generate educational success and lay the foundation for later social mobility (cf. Jaspers 2017). Indeed, “[t]he irony is that the rhetoric of social mobility and equal opportunities within education has increased in volume and intensity as both have become less possible in practice” (Reay 2010: 399). This is a sobering realisation. It does not invalidate educational reform per se, however. As Moore (2007) argues, such reforms may certainly reduce inequality within schools. What must be seriously questioned though, is the idea that schools have a direct impact on social opportunities, inequality or the economy outside of the school, and vice versa. This is not to deny any impact, but to insist that positions in one field will always be negotiated and transformed in the other, without guarantees of duplication. Relations between the school and the outside world must thus be seen as contingent rather than isomorphic (Moore 2007). Such a view certainly offers new opportunities. If schools do not simply motor social mobility, the reduction of inequality may be more effectively pursued through focusing on it directly, rather than indirectly through the school or through discourses that represent social mobility as the outcome of individual discipline, equal opportunities and responsible choosing. But it also presents challenges to disciplines which have tended to inscribe themselves in the logic of faster, higher, stronger learning in view of its impact on social inequality. What could applied linguistics offer to schools where learning isn’t principally linked to particular social destinations, but focused on transforming individuals in ways that are considered morally desirable? Can it contribute to an education that isn’t in the first place focused on individual excellence but on collectively making sense of, maintaining and renewing society through knowledge of language?