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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Introduction to Special Issue: Critical Perspectives on Neoliberalism in Second / Foreign Language Education

  • Author(s): Bernstein, Katie A.
  • Hellmich, Emily A.
  • Katznelson, Noah
  • Shin, Jaran
  • Vinall, Kimberly
  • et al.

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This special issue, Critical perspectives on neoliberalism in second / foreign language education, has arisen from our collective, lived experiences as language teachers, as researchers, and as early career scholars. In particular, it comes from changes we have observed in: how languages are understood and taught; the ways that learners and teachers are constructed; the kinds of knowledge about language learning that is produced through research; and the perceived goals of language study within a larger framework of the increased privatization of education. As we noticed the extent to which neoliberal discourse—the discourse of the marketplace—has seeped into these various practices, we came to realize how much it has influenced our own constructions of ourselves, of our learners, and of knowledge itself. It occurred to us that a critical engagement with neoliberalism could help us to examine the changes we were living and to understand our concerns with these experiences.

In this introduction, we address the following central questions: What is neoliberalism? What does neoliberalism have to do with education, and specifically, with second/foreign language education? Why are we taking a critical perspective and what does this look like? We situate our responses to these questions within the field of applied linguistics and place them in dialogue with the articles in this issue. We begin by defining neoliberalism and articulating our goals for this special issue; next, we delve into how these manuscripts intersect with previous research. We conclude with an outline of the manuscripts that comprise the issue and an examination of the paradoxes and contradictions brought to light—and critical spaces opened up—by the special issue as a whole.

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