Critical Action Research Challenging Neoliberal Language and Literacies Education

Auto and Duoethnographies of Global Experiences

by Antoinette Gagné (Volume editor) Amir Kalan (Volume editor) Sreemali Herath (Volume editor)
©2022 Textbook XVI, 310 Pages


This book is a collection of auto, duo and multi-ethnographies written by frontline language teachers and teacher educators in different parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and North America. These ethnographic accounts report how the authors mobilized different forms of action research to resist against neoliberal educational models and the profit-oriented principles by which they are run. The teachers involved in these projects write about a variety of ways in which they engaged with activist and critical research projects that highlight current socio-political movements, invite marginalized students’ communities into the process of teaching and learning, use language education as a means of identity negotiation, fight back institutional restrictions, and show how we can teach language for peace and happiness. The writers also explain how they have created an inquiry community to meet and support each other and used auto, duo or multi-ethnography as insiders to bring attention to their embodied knowledge of the challenges involved in contemporary neoliberal educational settings.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Prologue (Antoinette Gagné)
  • Introduction
  • 1. Pathways to Challenge the Neoliberal Constriction of Education: An Introductory Multiethnography (Antoinette Gagné, Sreemali Herath and Amir Kalan)
  • 2. NCARE: A Network of Critical Action Researchers in Education – Processes & Realizations (Antoinette Gagné, Claudio Jaramillo and Yecid Ortega)
  • Theme 1: Teacher Education
  • 3. Criticality and Inclusivity in Teacher Education: A Personal Journey of Growth and Transformation (Sreemali Herath)
  • 4. (Re)Imagining EFL Language Teacher Education Through Critical Action Research: An Autoethnography (Andrés Valencia)
  • 5. Becoming a Critically Reflective Educator: An Autoethnography of Multiple Selves (Isabel Tejada-Sánchez)
  • Theme 2: University or College Language Related Programs
  • 6. Large Online Undergraduate Courses: The Demise of Critical Pedagogy? (Michelle Troberg)
  • 7. A Duoethnography of Critical Action Research: Resisting the Neoliberal Order of EAP Teaching in Higher Education (Heejin Song)
  • 8. Unbalancing Neoliberalism in the University Literacy Classroom: A Duoethnographic Experience (Nayibe Rosado Mendinueta)
  • 9. Helping English Language Learners Negotiate Their Legitimate Academic English User Identities: A Critical Conversation Between a Language Learner and Her Teacher (Marlon Valencia)
  • Theme 3: Schools
  • 10. Peace Education in High School English Language Teaching in Colombia (Yecid Ortega)
  • 11. Deconstructing Everyday Language Pedagogies and Mobilizing Duoethnography as a Space for Critical Reflection (Adolfo Arrieta)
  • Theme 4: Community Education
  • 12. Neoliberalism, Transformation, and Educational Imperatives in Tension: A Duoethnography of Collaboration and Contestation in a Tanzanian Community Library (Monica Shank Lauwo)
  • 13. An Autoethnographic Perspective on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education in India (Bapujee Biswabandan)
  • 14. Mobilizing Pedagogical Agency for Mother Tongue-based Bilingual Education (MTBE) in Ghana: An Autoethnography (Mama Adobea Adjetey-Nii Owoo)
  • Conclusion
  • 15. Widening the Path to Challenge the Neoliberal Constriction of Language and Literacies Education: Our Concluding Multiethnography (Antoinette Gagné)
  • Epilogue
  • Where to Next?
  • Notes on Contributors

←viii | ix→

List of Figures

Figure 1.1. Traditional Research Process

Figure 1.2. Components of Post-Positivist Critical Inquiry Approaches

Figure 1.3. Nested Pedagogical Orientations

Figure 1.4. Collaborative Inquiry as Resistance

Figure 1.5. Sreemali’s Visual Summary of the Conversation

Figure 2.1. Our Diverse and Intersecting Identities

Figure 2.2. Factors that Contribute to Building and/or Sustaining Communities of Education Inquiry

Figure 2.3. NCARE Member Viewed Through an Intersectional Lens

Figure 2.4. Evolution of NCARE

Figure 2.5. Patterns of Participation in NCARE across Time. Note: “M” = Member

Figure 2.6. The Synergy of Convergences and Divergences in NCARE

Figure 3.1. Thilini’s Identity Portrait

Figure 3.2. Nimaali’s Identity Portrait

Figure 3.3. A Temporary Learning Space Created Outside of a Student’s Home

Figure 4.1. “Suturing” Points in Autoethnography

Figure 4.2. First Mural Project—The Beginning

Figure 4.3. First Mural Project—Sketch

←ix | x→

Figure 4.4. First Mural Project—Final Product

Figure 4.5. Second Mural Project—The Beginning

Figure 4.6. Second Mural Project—Final Product on the Southside Wall

Figure 4.7. Second Mural Project—Final Product on the Northside Wall

Figure 4.8. Iterative Performance at the Mall

Figure 4.9. Iterative Performance—Crossing Pasoancho Street

Figure 4.10. Iterative Performance—Delivering My First Public Speech

Figure 6.1. English Grammar Teacher Inquiry Community

Figure 6.2. NCARE Support Community

Figure 6.3. Cycle of Actions

Figure 6.4. Personal Profile Blog in Amir’s Tutorial

Figure 6.5. Examples of Soundcloud Audio Files

Figure 6.6. TAs’ Discussion Board Hits

Figure 6.7. Pop Music Lyrics

Figure 7.1. Vocabulary Acquisition Project Action Research Cycles

Figure 7.2. Canadian Culture and Identity Action Research Cycle

Figure 7.3. Canadian Culture and Identity Action Research Cycles

Figure 8.1. Summary of Stages in the Intervention

Figure 8.2. A Student’s Post-Lesson Forum Comment During the Deconstruction Stage

Figure 9.1. Our Diverse and Common Identities

Figure 9.2. A Critical Facebook Conversation on the ‘Issue’ of Plagiarism

Figure 9.3. Four Foundational Concepts in My Course

Figure 9.4. Elise’s Identity Portrait

Figure 9.5. Gallery Walks

Figure 9.6. Creativity Poster and Reflection

←x | xi→

Figure 9.7. Photo Walk and Photo Essay

Figure 10.1. Our Action Research Cycle

Figure 10.2. Designs and Conceptualizations of the Word Peace in Notebooks

Figure 10.3. Students Framing Other Students in Peace

Figure 11.1. Students Sharing Their Reflection of the Importance of Values in Their Lives

Figure 11.2. English as a Learning Festival

Figure 13.1. Parents Sitting in Small Groups Writing Stories and Songs

Figure 13.2. Students Sharing Their Experiences of Visiting a Local Fair

Figure 13.3. Children Checking What Their Parents Had Written

Figure 13.4. Cover of the Multilingual Storybook Created by the Parents

Figure 13.5. A Story Created by the Parents for the Multilingual Storybook

Figure 13.6. Another Story Created by the Parents for the Multilingual Storybook

Figure 14.1. Map of Ghana and Map of the City of Accra, the Study’s Context

Figure 14.2. Sample Resources Developed for Gã Language Education

Figure 14.3. Snippets of AEN Gã Language Education Chat Group Activities on Whatsapp and Skype

Figure 14.4. Developing the First Words Gã Resource

Figure 14.5. Example of a Mawie Gã Printable Picture Flashcard

Figure 14.6. Formalizing the Mawie Gã Bilingual Curriculum

Figure 14.7. Screenshot of the Afroliteracies Foundation Website: www.afroliteracies.net

Figure 15.1. The Confluence of Turns and NCARE

←xi | xii→

←xii | xiii→


Antoinette Gagné

More than 10 years ago, a teacher educator from a Chilean university focused on preparing teachers of English, was referred to me by one of my colleagues. He thought we might be able to work together productively because of our similar positions as teacher educators in concurrent education programs. Our first meeting led to a fruitful collaboration involving the transformation of the teaching practicum as well as the resequencing of the education focussed courses across a multi-year teacher education program. Our collaboration spanned about 6 years and led to the creation of the Network of Critical Action Researchers in Education (NCARE).

Ironically, what initially brought me to Chile was the neoliberal agenda of the Chilean government which had initiated strong winds of change and expectations of improvement as measured by various metrics which now control the ranking of universities and the promotion of professors in many parts of the world. In fact, within the framework of the university’s neoliberal agenda, I was asked to work with senior colleagues in the faculty of education and university to shift the culture of teacher education from one where being a ‘master’ teacher was a sufficient qualification to one where research conducted by teacher educators would help to bridge the theory-practice gap so often referenced in the teacher preparation literature.

In retrospect, looking back at my understanding of the world before arriving in Chile, I recognize that I brought a very ‘liberal’ mindset to this work. I was very excited by the collaborative, comparative and cross-cultural aspects of this work with my Chilean colleagues and I viewed our work as exploratory and filled with possibilities that would lead to an enhanced teacher education program with an improved experience for both professors and students.

By the end of my third visit to the university, my initial naïveté had begun to dissipate and be displaced by frustration at the seemingly intractable demands of the neoliberal university administration. Each visit had included opportunities to interact with students, full-time and part-time faculty as well ←xiii | xiv→as administrators at different ranks. These interactions taught me about the huge divides that existed between each group. The student body in this public university held an activist stance which translated into protests and strikes against the neoliberal agenda of university administration and government education policies while many of the faculty members seemed resigned to the fact that this was happening and nothing would change. Many professors worked at two universities to make ends meet and mid-level administrators as well as the senior administration team were kept busy meeting the demands of the various agencies funding the expansion and so-called improvements to their university. This involved all sorts of metrics to ensure that the goals set out in the agreements and contracts were being realized.

One of the central goals of the administration was the transformation of the professoriate.

The central administration wanted the faculty to become more effective and interactive in their teaching and more active as researchers generating products that could be used to demonstrate their status as a leading university. At this point, it became clear to me that I needed to find a way to support my colleagues within the constraints of these large scale ‘improvement’ grants and their related demands. As a result, I began to promote action research as a way to introduce research into the working lives of the ‘master’ teachers who made up most of the faculty. I tried to ‘sell’ this approach as the best way to effect change as action research could allow for the attainment of both goals. Initially, administrative buy-in was half-hearted because there had been a high level of investment in the hiring of an elite group of about 10 researchers whose sole purpose was the production of knowledge and related articles in top-ranked journals. However, when several of the professional programs including the teacher education program went through the accreditation process and the need for action research was highlighted in the report, the support of the central administration increased. The accreditation body indicated that it would be looking for evidence of action research as one important facet of improvement in the teacher education program.

In my two most recent visits, I worked in various ways with my colleagues in an attempt to make action research a viable alternative for them to increase their status in the university. However, it proved to be very difficult, as the university’s messaging around what counts as ‘real’ research had been very powerful. Most of the professors had low self-esteem and believed that without a doctoral degree and the ability to lead large scale projects or at least conduct smaller scale empirical research for publication in a select group of indexed journals, they would never be valued by their institution or have opportunities for promotion.←xiv | xv→

I tried to appeal to their sense of social justice and to their activist orientation by providing examples of the power of action research in connecting to partner schools and involving teacher candidates and K-12 learners in participatory forms of action research. Although this appealed to them, there was such a gulf between this and what they understood as the university’s expectations, that they did not embrace more critical forms of action research. They could relate to a more liberal understanding of action research as a recursive form of research involving cycles of reflection, action and documentation for the improvement of practice in their own university classrooms or in elementary or secondary school discipline focused classrooms.


XVI, 310
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Autoethnography Duoethnography Multi-ethnography Action Research Teacher Research Critical Pedagogy Critical Literacy Neoliberalism Antoinette Gagné Amir Kalan Sreemali Herath
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XVI, 310 pp., 62 b/w ill., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Antoinette Gagné (Volume editor) Amir Kalan (Volume editor) Sreemali Herath (Volume editor)

Antoinette Gagné has been a professor at the University of Toronto since 1989. Her research has focused on teacher education for diversity and inclusion in various contexts as well as the experiences of newcomers and their families in Canadian schools and university-level plurilingual students. Amir Kalan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. His research interests include critical literacy and second language education. In his research, he mobilizes methods such as narrative inquiry and autoethnography to study sociocultural contexts of literacy engagement. Sreemali Herath is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. Her research includes post-conflict reconciliation, arts based approaches to identity and language teaching research, critical approaches to teacher education and narrative inquiry.


Title: Critical Action Research Challenging Neoliberal Language and Literacies Education
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328 pages