Volume 33, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0155-0640
  • E-ISSN: 1833-7139


Critical directions in applied linguistics can be understood in various ways. The term as it has been used in and so forth, is now embedded as part of applied linguistic work, adding an overt focus on questions of power and inequality to discourse analysis, literacy or applied linguistics more generally. In this paper I will argue, however, that although critical discourse analysis and critical literacy still make claims to a territory different from their ‘non-critical’ counterparts, much of this work has become conventional and moribund. The use of the term ‘critical’ (with its problematic claims and divisions) has perhaps reached saturation level. This is not to say, however, that the basic need to bring questions of power, disparity and difference to applied linguistics is any way diminished, but rather that we may need to look in alternative directions for renewal.

Here I want to pursue two main possibilities: On the one hand, the effects of critical work have been widely felt, so that the issues and concerns raised by work in this tradition have filtered through to many parts of the field. Work today that might be deemed critical may no longer need to wear this label. On the other hand, a range of different social theories (captured in part by a series of ‘turns’) has started to shift the thinking in many domains of applied linguistics in important ways. Just as work in sociolinguistics, for example, has shifted from a central focus on variationist accounts of language to include style, identity, practices and politics more broadly, and work in bi- and multilingualism has started to question the ways in which these are framed (hence, for example, multilanguaging, polylingualism and metrolingualism), so applied linguistics has shifted from a central focus on language teaching, testing and second language acquisition to a broader and more critical conceptualization of language in social life. It has started to take on board the implications of new ‘turns’ in the social sciences (practices, sensory, somatic, postmodern, ecological, decolonial) and new influences from previously overlooked sources (queer theory, critical geography, postcolonial studies, philosophy). Critical and alternative directions in applied linguistics, therefore, may be found across a variety of domains that are engaging with notions such as language as a local practice.


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