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Reviewed by:
  • Cultural Globalization and Language Education
  • Bonnie Waterstone
B. Kumaravadivelu (2007). Cultural Globalization and Language Education. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Pp. 288, US $48.00 (paper).

Kumaravadivelu offers an in-depth analysis of culture, globalization, and the pedagogical implications of the complexities of cultural identity formation, an area he contends has been neglected in language education. He develops the concept of cultural realism and critiques previous conceptualizations that try to address cultural globalization, [End Page 471] namely cultural assimilation, cultural pluralism, and cultural hybridity. His project is to provide a guide to the development of ‘global cultural consciousness,’ which he asserts is needed in order for language learners, teachers, and teacher educators to deal with contemporary cultural realities (p. 169).

Kumaravadivelu’s critique of the concept of cultural assimilation builds on his discussion of cultural stereotyping. Such a reductive view of culture results in teaching ‘fragmented cultural tidbits’ that distort the dynamism of cultures and reinforce dominant perceptions of the ‘Other’ (p. 93). His critique of cultural assimilation and cultural pluralism uses examples from the United States; he equates cultural pluralism with multiculturalism. This approach is limiting, but his critique is valuable in showing how a liberal position, by reinforcing ethnocentrism and commodifying cultures, can hide behind cultural pluralism/multiculturalism. He acknowledges that critical multiculturalism points out these flaws, deals with the complexities of cultural formations, and works towards a ‘less informative and more performative’ education, informed by an ethics of everyday life (p. 107). Kumaravadivelu also shows how in language education, multiculturalism/cultural pluralism tends to focus on training L2 learners to use language in cultural appropriate ways, assuming a homogeneous target culture and mistakenly conflating national identity with cultural identity (while falsely unifying both ‘nation’ and ‘culture’).

Kumaravadivelu provides a very useful analysis of theories of hybridity, arguing that although these theories do not adequately address the everyday realities of globalization, the postcolonial view of hybridity as a continual, unfinished process can be useful in language education to raise awareness of the intricate nature of cross-cultural encounters and to better understand interculturality.

Cultural realism, the author contends, can more adequately address contemporary global, national, social, and individual realities, which he sees as interrelated. Globally, processes of economic and cultural globalization stimulated by information technology result in a tension between heterogeneity and homogenization that generates the creativity of ‘glocalization,’ or localizing the global and globalizing the local (p. 147). On a national level, we see a revival of local nationalisms, or sub-nationalisms, demonstrating the appeal of the idea of ‘nation’ even as borders are undermined. Social reality is the arena of ethnic and linguistic affiliations and communities; individual reality is where the self makes sense of [End Page 472] the multiple, dynamic possibilities and contradictions for identity formation.

In setting out pedagogical principles and instructional strategies for implementing cultural realism in the classroom, the author contrasts two leaders, Nehru and Gandhi. Nehru, on the one hand, embodies a story of ambivalence, of being between cultures, neither ‘East nor West.’ Gandhi, on the other hand, demonstrates a deep cultural rootedness, along with openness to other cultures: he embodies cultural growth—the ‘global cultural consciousness’ that Kumaravadivelu hopes language educators will begin to develop in themselves and their students (p. 169). Some of the principles Kumaravadivelu suggests are to acknowledge the global in the local and to move away from a focus on a singular target language community and towards cultural communities (p. 174). Rather than giving cultural information, teachers should be aware of the processes of cultural transformation in their students’ lives (as demonstrated in Rampton’s 1995 work on crossing). It is also important to see students as ‘cultural informants,’ acknowledging the knowledge they bring with them (p. 182). Kumaravadivelu offers some instructional strategies that involve familiar dichotomies (e.g., individual/collective) and popular themes (e.g., dating, sports, music) and two examples of exploratory projects, using auto-ethnography (towards critical self-reflection) and critical ethnography. These practical strategies show how teachers might begin to grapple concretely with more complex interpretations of culture, nation, and identity.

Kumaravadivelu demonstrates the impact of cultural globalization on English as a second/foreign language learning, teaching, and teacher...


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pp. 471-474
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