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Standing in the genkan: Adjunct foreign English language teachers in the Japanese higher education internationalisation context

Whitsed, Craig (2011) Standing in the genkan: Adjunct foreign English language teachers in the Japanese higher education internationalisation context. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This dissertation explores the experiences, knowledge and beliefs of adjunct foreign English language teachers (AFELT), and how they envisage their role and place in the Japanese university context. These experiences are important when considered against a backdrop of Japanese higher education reform and internationalisation. For example, this research asks, what are the experiences of AFELT? how do they conceptualise their expected role? and what do these suggest about internationalisation in the Japanese university context? This dissertation aims to: first, contribute to the understanding of how AFELT construe themselves as situated in the Japanese university context; second, investigate how AFELT contribute to, or not, internationalisation by illuminating phenomena that afford or constrain AFELT practices; third, examine the conceptual usefulness of applying a multi-theoretical perspective to elicit a richer, more nuanced understanding of stakeholders’ social interaction and ‘place’ at both macro and micro levels of internationalisation. It is these phenomena, including notions of inclusion and exclusion, that situate the research in the broader context of internationalisation.

The empirical study presented in this dissertation initiated out of a desire to better understand AFELT experience, role and ‘place’ from an emic perspective. Previous research on Japanese higher education internationalisation is generally quantitative or limited in depth, thus has remained silent on AFELT experience, place, and value. By privileging participant voice, this study makes an original contribution to this field of research. A key feature of this dissertation is its theoretical grounding in interpretive epistemology and constructionist traditions. The epistemological assumption upon which the research is grounded assumes social interaction and socio-cultural/political phenomena such as internationalisation to be complex, multilayered, multidimensional, and dynamic. Qualitative data were therefore generated from successive focus groups and in-depth interviews conducted over a year involving 43 participants working across 66 universities (public and private) in Japan.

The findings revealed a complex, multilayered, matrix of intersecting and diverging themes and discursive discourses. At the macro level, a major finding is the significant discontinuity between internationalization and communicative English language education policy and practice in Japan, and how these are enacted at the institutional level. AFELT role and ‘place’ was perceived by participants to be mobilised in essentialist, utilitarian and symbolic terms, with AFELT value indexed to the realisation of internationalisation and marketing strategies rather than to educational outputs. Thus, a significant degree of incongruence concerning the nature, purpose and function of AFELT classes was exposed. According to participants, higher education, broadly speaking, constitutes a social rather than educational experience for many Japanese undergraduate domestic students. From AFELT’s perspective, English language classes are considered as peripheral to the function of the universities in which they work, and not essential to the internationalisation process advocated in the broad internationalisation discourse. As such, AFELT construed their role as being commodified and instrumentalised. They asserted that AFELT were not supported in, or encouraged to facilitate, the development of interculturality in the domestic student population. Yet nevertheless, the majority of participants still felt a responsibility to implement intercultural education and encourage the development of students’ ability to value diversity.

At the micro level, the research identified contextual and individual affordances and constraints that impacted upon AFELT communicative English teaching. Participants’ ‘subject positioning’ was identified as a salient factor affording or constraining AFELT professional identity and practice. The research concluded by casting AFELT as aggressively asserting their agency through ‘reflexive positioning’.

Through its in-depth examination of AFELT ‘place’ and ‘experience’, this dissertation makes a unique contribution to Japanese internationalisation discourse. The multiple theoretical perspectives appropriated from situative social/psychological person-in-context perspectives, Japanese culture and communication studies, cognitive linguistics, dramaturgy, and Positioning theory to explore AFELT ‘place’ and ‘experience’ provided powerful conceptual lenses to interrogate stakeholder positioning within the internationalisation space.

The dissertation highlights the need for further research into: the influence of AFELT as vehicles of, and facilitators for reciprocal intercultural understanding; local cultural affordances and constraints; and, processes to evaluate and support ‘global citizenry’ as graduate outcomes in the Japanese context. Metaphorically, the experience of the Japanese university for adjunct foreign English teachers may be likened to ‘standing in the genkan’, that is, they are invited into the house but are not invited up and into the home, or beyond the confines of the genkan. As such, AFELT are socially positioned between states - neither fully ‘in’ nor ‘out’, ‘visible’ nor ‘invisible’.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor: Volet, Simone and Wright, Peter
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