Applied linguistics as epistemic assemblage

John Benjamins Publishing Company
Publication Type:
Journal Article
AILA Review, 2018, 31 (1), pp. 113 - 134
Issue Date:
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A transdisciplinary focus in applied linguistics is certainly to be welcomed over the implausible disciplinary claims that have hampered this field of work through much of its history. Applied linguistics has been subjected to handbooks, introductory texts, conferences and symposia, all trying hard to make the case for disciplinary cohesion. Like language standardization, while there may be gains to be made by such processes or normalization, this history of consolidation and exclusion has also rendered applied linguistics unhelpfully narrow in its epistemologies, politics and methods. There are a number of reasons to reject claims to disciplinary status for applied linguistics, including a more persuasive argument that a field of applied study is ordered not so much by a core disciplinary focus but rather by the questions it asks and the fields it engages with – language policy, language in the professions, language in education, and so on – and that the understandings of language, the matters of concern, and the research tools to engage with them change accordingly. A focus on transdisciplinary applied linguistics, however, is not necessarily the answer to trying to understand the knowledge and politics of applied linguistics. While preferable to both disciplinary and interdisciplinary frameworks (both of which reinforce disciplinary boundaries), a transdisciplinary focus draws attention away not only from the important focus on practice, but also from broader ways in which knowledge is produced, regulated and maintained. A transdisciplinary focus may in fact work against a more flexible notion of academic endeavour. In the next section, I shall explore in greater depth the struggles over disciplinarity in applied linguistics, making a case on several grounds to reject claims that applied linguistics is a discipline. Following this, I will look at the implications of engagement with posthumanist theory, arguing that this is a question of epistemes rather than disciplines. This will be followed by a discussion of Southern theory, and the concern that applied linguistics has a long way to go before it becomes a more responsive and responsible domain of academic work. The conclusion points to ways in which an understanding of applied linguistics as an epistemic assemblage may offer a range of possibilities for renewal.
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