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Space and Language Learning under the Neoliberal Economy

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Neoliberalism, as an ideology that valorizes and institutionalizes market-based freedom and individual entrepreneurship, derives from the logic of highly advanced capitalism, and thus must be understood in relation to the material conditions of our capitalist economy. One such material condition is space. However, the intersection of space and neoliberalism is yet to be explored in detail within the field of applied linguistics. This lacuna impedes our understanding of the social and geographical embeddedness of language, in particular the dialectic between language learning and political economy. The key question we address in this paper is: how are trajectories of language learning under the neoliberal economy shaped in spatial terms? Through looking at two cases—the re-invention of the countryside village of Yangshuo as the biggest English corner in China and the Korean phenomena of jogi yuhak [early study abroad]—we argue 1) that a heightened awareness of the link between language learning, space, and mobility will allow us to explore the material constraints and inequalities of language learning with greater sensitivity, and 2) that a focus on the spatial grounding of language learning can allow applied linguistics to make a unique contribution to the critique of neoliberalism.

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