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Reframing globalization for English in Europe. David Block Institute of Education, University of London. Plan of action: A simple plan . Neoliberalism Globalization English in Europe. Situating all of this in political economy .

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Reframing globalization for English in Europe

David Block

Institute of Education,

University of London

Plan of action: A simple plan



English in Europe

Situating all of this in political economy

[Political economy] originated in Marx’s critique of classical economics, but today it is understood as an interdisciplinary field which:

  • adopts ideas and methods from economics, politics and sociology;

  • deals with the relationship between the individual and society and between the market and the state; and

  • helps us understand how capitalism, social institutions and social activities interrelate.



David Harvey

Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. (Harvey 2005: 2)

The logic of Neoliberalism

Pierre Bourdieu

Neoliberal economics, the logic of which is tending today to win out throughout the world … owes a certain number of its allegedly universal characteristics to the fact that it is … rooted in a system of beliefs and values, an ethos and a moral view of the world, in short, an economic common sense’ , linked, as such, to the social and cognitive structures of a particular social order. (Bourdieu 2005: 10)

Slavoj Žižek

… to put it in old-fashioned Marxist terms, the main task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to impose a narrative that will not put the blame for the meltdown on the global capitalist system as such, but on its deviations (overly lax legal regulations, the corruption of financial institutions, and so on).

(Žižek, 2009: 19)


An early view of globalization

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. … it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and

death question for all civilized nations,

by industries that no longer work up

indigenous raw material, but raw

material drawn from the remotest

zones; industries whose products are

consumed, not only at home, but in

every quarter of the globe.

(Marx & Engels 1967 [1846]: 83-84)

Immanuel Wallerstein on ‘globalization’

This term was invented in the 1980s. It is usually thought to refer to a reconfiguration of the world-economy that has only recently come into existence, in which pressures on all governments to open their frontiers to the free movement of goods and capital is unusually strong. This is the result … of technological advances, especially in the field of informatics. The

term is as much a prescription as a

description. For world systems analysts,

what is described as something new …

has in fact been a cyclical occurrence

throughout the history of the modern

world system. (Wallerstein 2004: 9)

Globalization ...

is an ongoing and ever-evolving process, not a point in history which has definitively been reached.

involves the increasingly extended and intensified interconnectedness of economic, political, social and cultural phenomena, emergent in human activity taking place across time and space scales.

means that time is compressed, i.e. phenomena which previously unfolded over long periods now unfold over shorter periods of time.

is about spatial scales, ranging from the local to the global, interrelated to an unprecedented degree.

is what Appadurai has called a ‘complex, overlapping and disjunctive order’ made up of different but interrelated scapes, or forces and flows of people, technology, money, information and ideas.

’Liquid life’ and ‘liquid modernity’

Zygmunt Bauman

‘Liquid life’ is a kind of life that tends to be lived in a liquid modern society. ‘Liquid modern’ is a society in which the conditions under which its members act change faster than it takes for the ways of acting to consolidate into habits and routines. Liquidity of life and that of society feed and reinvigorate each other.(Bauman, 2005: 1)




When referring to sustained linkages and ongoing exchanges among non-state actors based across national borders- businesses, non-government organizations, and individuals sharing the same interests (by way of criteria such as religious beliefs, common cultural and geographic regions)- we can differentiate these as ‘transnational’ practices and groups … . The collective attributes of such connections, their processes of formation and maintenance, and their wider implications are referred to broadly as ‘transnationalism’. (Vertovec, 2009: 3)


In the last decade the proliferation and mutually conditioning effects of additional variables shows that it is not enough to see diversity only in terms of ethnicity, as is regularly the case both in social science and the wider public sphere. Such additional variables include differential immigration statuses and their concomitant entitlements and restrictions of rights, divergent labour market experiences, discrete gender and age profiles, patterns of spatial distribution, and mixed local area responses by service providers and residents. Rarely are these factors described side by side. The interplay of these factors is what is meant here … by the notion of ‘super-diversity’. (Vertovec, 2007: 1025)

Tension points (in no particular order)

  • The global age: when it started

  • We are living in times like no other in history

  • Homogenisation vs. heterogeneity

  • Hybridity, third places and related concepts

  • Glocalization (+ the authenticity of the local vs. the sophistication of the global)

  • To be a globalist or a sceptic or a transformationalist

  • Overwhelmed in the ‘runaway world’.

Globalization in Applied Linguistics

... the reluctance of many applied linguists to consider the economic dimension of globalization and the tendency for discussions of that dimension to be cursory and one-sided severely limit the contribution the field might make to key contemporary debate. ... In the end, it undermines the credibility of applied linguists and makes it unlikely they will play a significant role in solving the social injustices they so rightly deplore. (Bruthiaux 2008: 20)

World Systems Theory: Key elements

The longue durée (Braudel)

A focus on:

  • Events (wars, assassinations, natural disasters, stock market collapses)

  • ‘Structural time’, the basic formations and principles underlying long-term historical developments, which unfolds in frames generally spanning long periods of time

  • Cyclical processes, or shorter term trends, such as economic, political and cultural cycles.

The world capitalist system

‘a large geographic zone within which there is a division of labor and hence significant internal exchange of basic goods as well as flows of capital and labor’ (Wallerstein 2004: 23).

A stratified system with the core and periphery status of production processes around the world:

  • Core = interconnected centres of economic power and dynamism (Europe, North America, East Asia)

  • Periphery = the poorer nation states of the world (most of Africa, much of Central/South America)

    Critiques of WSA: Too rigid? Eurocentric? A-cultural?

English in Europe

We can see English in Europe in many different ways:

English is just another language among many.

English is linked to ‘native-speaker’ cultures.

English is not linked to ‘native-speaker’ cultures.

English is an instrumental language- no culture/no identity.

English is a mediator of membership in European and global communities of practice (culture and identity of a different kind).

The full embrace of English in Europe

The English which is studied and acquired in school must accommodate the mainland European need to establish a sense of identity in the use of the language, as well as operating adequately in interaction not only between Europeans from different member states but with foreign-language and second-language users worldwide, as well as with speakers of English from the Inner Circle. (Modiano, 2009: 214).

4 broad functions of English in the European context (Berns, 2009):

  • the instrumental

  • the interpersonal

  • the institutional (or administrative)

  • the innovative

English at the European university

The Kantian university (17th-18th centuries), devoted to Enlightenment values and rational thought. Language: Latin

Humboltian university (late 18th-late 20th centuries), devoted to strengthening the nation state and the making of citizens. Language: ‘national’ language.

The Post-national university (end of the 20th century-present), devoted to the education of global citizens and the cosmopolitan, neoliberal values of the global age. Language: English.

Based on Bull, cited in Mortensen and Haberland (2012)

In Sweden

By 2009, 65% MA programmes taught in English

50% of students ‘foreign’

94% of PhD theses in Natural Sciences published in English

65% in Social Sciences and 37% in the Humanities (Salö, 2010).

Disciplines publishing most in English are disciplines producing most publications

Which leads to Gunnarsson’s (2001) warning about an emergent diglossia (English = high; Swedish = low)

(based on Kuteeva, 2011a)

Two interesting assessments

The problem with understanding is minor. The problem is when a group of people try to discuss something in a foreign language, you will find the easy solution that everyone understand and not the solution that is hard to explain/understand in a foreign language. (Kuteeva 2011b: 7)

The students (and teachers) spend more time trying to understand or find the words. That implies that less effort can be put into actually discussing scientific problems in depth. (Kuteeva 2011b: 9)

The why of English-language study in European universities

  • to attract international students;

  • to prepare domestic students for the global labour market; and

  • to raise the profile of the institution.

    … in the current globalised higher education space, internationalisation is necessary even to attract domestic students … As competition increases, national and local universities fight for new recruits and courses in English are a powerful draw.

    (Doiz, Lasagabastar & Sierra, 2011: 447)

Neoliberalism and education …

the purpose of education from the neoliberal perspective is to service the economy through the production of human capital …. In other words, education is re-construed as ultimately being about the production of workers with the skills and the dispositions necessary to compete in the global economy. (Gray & Block, 2012: 120)

Norman Fairclough (2010): the marketisation of education

Institutions of higher education come increasingly to operate … as if they were ordinary businesses competing to sell their products to consumers.

… universities are required to raise an increasing portion of their funds from private sources, and increasingly to put in tenders for funding

… institutions are making major organisational changes which accord with a market mode of operation, such as introducing an ‘internal’ market by making departments more financially autonomous, using ‘managerial’ approaches, for example, staff appraisal and training, introducing institutional planning, and giving much more attention to marketing.

There has been pressure for academics to see students as ‘customers’ ...

The marketization of education represents a major frame shift in different contexts around the world. In those countries where education operated in a manner relatively free from government interference (e.g. Britain prior to the Thatcher era), with professional accountability of teachers at a minimum and professional autonomy at a maximum, there is now a dominant managerial ethos leading to ever greater government control and increased accountability of all professionals involved. In those parts of the world where education has always been centrally controlled, still greater government control has been introduced (e.g. South Korea).

(Gray & Block, 2012: 121)

Topics from recent volume on marketisation and education (Molesworth, et al, 2010)

The international and financial context of marketisation

Governmental funding for education as a market

University branding and promotion

The new purposes of universities: from national citizen makers to global citizen makers

New notions of value: League tables and student surveys (vs. older notions of quality, such as intellectual curiosity)

The student as consumer/client and what this means in terms of new demands made on universities

The rise of a new language: ‘choice’, ‘excellence’, ‘value-added’, ‘social capital’, etc.

Connecting English in Europe with a political economy take on globalization

There are business interests and these are generally played out in English. But …

There is a skills agenda in neoliberal approaches to education and English is positioned as a key skill and a big part of ‘social capital’.

There is a reconfiguration of the job market in the advanced economies of the world, such that occupations like teaching have become declassed.

Class has been marginalized from debates during the neoliberal era, both by the neoliberal tradition and the liberal multiculturalist tradition. But …

There is a notion of global citizenship linked to the English language, which can be cosmopolitan, but is too often consumerist (see Gray, 2012).

Resistance to the current dominance of neoliberalism might- and certainly does- take place in English around the world. But …

The Englishisation of European universities is most pronounced in the hard sciences and other ‘useful’ disciplines. The consequences?

In the Englishisation of European universities, there is the rupture between a language and ongoing development of ideas in anything from philosophy to medicine. The consequences?

World Systems Analysis revisited

economic cycles- Currently, the post 1970s neoliberal cycle. But are we in for a new economics? Or will it be more and more patches?

Political cycles- Currently, the spread of the Washington consensus (= the ditching of the social democratic consensus). But what politics lie ahead?

Cultural cycles- currently, the demise of collectivism and the rise of individualism. Also, the English era. But might it all change with the coming of the ‘Chinese century’?

Thank you.

David Block

Institute of Education,

University of London

[email protected]

Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism

... the intervention of philosophical reflection in the practice of science or putative science needs no stressing when one focuses on the social sciences. Their Angst-ridden state already renders them particularly prone to philosophical suggestion. And it is clearly in the social sciences, with their evident malaise and their invocation of flaccid

philosophies in support of widely

discrepant practices, that philosophy

might be expected to do something

more than paint its grey on black.

(Bhaskar, 1998: 16)

Some issues with Postmodernism (Bhaskar, 2002: 205-206)

An emphasis on difference, relativity and pluralism.

An accentuation on the emphasis of language characteristic to twentieth century philosophy.

Scepticism about or denial of the need to say anything about the world.

The impossibility of giving better or worse grounds for a belief, action (including speech action) or practice.

Life is viewed as a pastiche, not a totality; an assemblage not a whole.

The incapacity to sustain an account of change as rational; and hence to topicalise the phenomenon of (individual; collective; global) self-emancipation.

Heightened reflexivity, without however a clear conception of self- hence no self-reflexivity or capacity to situate itself.

The genesis of a politics or more generally culture, of identity and difference thematising the specificity of particular group interests, and indeed individual ones too, without however sustaining the idea of essential unity of all human (or more generally just all) beings- that is difference and identity without unity and universality.

For the critical realist …

… there is no inconsistency between being an ontological realist … believing that there is a real world which consists in structures, generative mechanisms, all sorts of complex things and totalities which exist and act independently of the scientist …


saying that that knowledge is itself socially produced; it is a geo-historically specific social process, so it is continually in transformation in what I call the epistemological, transitive or social dimension for our understanding of science. Science … is characterised by relativism, … pluralism, diversity, difference and change … (Bhaskar, 2002: 211)

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