Critical applied linguistics (CALx) challenges the theory, politics, and practice of applied linguistics. Early work in the field was inspired by the Frankfurt School of Critical theorists, focusing on neo-Marxian concerns of power, inequality, and emancipation within language learning and translation; additional research drew on insights from Feminism and postcolonialism literature. In recent years, the concerns raised by scholars working within CALx have entered the mainstream. They underlie, for example, critiques of native-speaker norms within work on English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), the move to include more diverse representations of Englishes and English users within textbooks, and revisions to hiring practices to favor non-native practitioners. This paper explores the utility of adopting a critical perspective explicitly rejected by Alastair Pennycook in his foundational monograph on CALx, namely a small-c critical approach based on (to use Pennycook’s terminology) a liberal, humanist foundation. A selection of representative CALx positions is presented for analysis. In response to each example, critical questions are posed. For example: While the promotion of non-native Englishes may be understood to challenge ‘linguistic Imperialism’, are language learners themselves—who are less likely than theorists to be ‘enlightened’ by a neo-Marxian understanding of the world— likely to be in favor of such a movement, or to have a voice within it? The results of the analysis suggest that the unintended consequences of CALx-inspired change may in some cases oppress rather than emancipate. The discussion section situates the CALx movement with reference to the spread of neo-Marxian perspectives into Academia and educational policy. It is argued that critical work in Applied linguistics would benefit from greater viewpoint diversity, that is, the incorporation of a wider range of methodological perspectives.
Critical applied linguistics, CALx, English as a lingua franca, ELF