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(De)mystifying literacy practices in a foreign language classroom: A critical discourse analysis

Yuri Kumagai, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study problematizes the literacy practices of a second-year, Japanese language classroom at a small women's college. Drawing on critical perspectives on language, literacy and d/Discourse (Gee, 1990)—in particular, on sociocultural and poststructural theories—this study discusses the joint actions of a classroom teacher and her students. Using Fairclough's (1992b) model of critical discourse analysis as an analytical tool combined with the methodology of critical ethnography, this study closely examines classroom interactions through moment-by-moment analysis of numerous literacy events. Through year-long ethnographic fieldwork and two subsequent years of dialogue with the teacher, I chose to focus my study on “moments of tension.” I selected five “critical moments” when diversions from the teacher's lesson agenda were observed during the classroom literacy events. The dynamic interplay among the texts, the students' identities and the teacher's discourses inspired those critical moments. They were moments when both the teacher and the students struggled to defend what they believed as true and attempted to inhabit ideal subject positions against textual representations. My use of critical discourse analysis revealed that, in general, the students drew from the dominant discourses that the teacher had provided so that they could successfully participate and make sense of the literacy events. However, when the texts represented a reality or truth that challenged the students' beliefs about their identity and/or ontology, the students resisted such representations and “disrupted” the dominant classroom discourse by drawing on counter-discourses. Similarly, when the students' counter-discourses challenged the teacher's ontology and/or identity, she resisted taking up those discourses and tried to normalize the moments by deflecting the issues at hand and by withdrawing from the “intersection of the discourses” rather than opting to facilitate a dialogue about competing discourses. This study argues that these moments of tension displayed how students contributed significantly to the production of knowledge in the classroom. They point out how students exercise their agency and take up positions as “knowers” that align with their sense of self. My analysis also allows me to draw implications for the possibility of critical literacy practices in a FL classroom.

Subject Area

Language arts|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Kumagai, Yuri, "(De)mystifying literacy practices in a foreign language classroom: A critical discourse analysis" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3152720.