Practice Without Theory and Theory Without Practice

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    Diane Larsen-Freeman is a professor of education, professor of linguistics, and re-search scientist at the English Language Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.She is also a distinguished senior faculty fellow at the School for International Train-ing in Brattleboro, Vermont, United States.

    Practice Without Theory and TheoryWithout Practice

    ROBERT KAPLANUniversity of Southern California (Emeritus)Los Angeles, California, United States

    Dr. Drew Diligence, Vice-President and Provost (hereafter P): TESOL as a field ofstudy seems to lie at the disjuncture between three war zones of theorylinguistic theory, applied linguistics theory, and educational theory. Theproblem is disjunctive enough to require a thorough investigation and anumber of experts from each of the three disciplines to be deposed. Thefollowing depositionrepresenting only one visionconstitutes one of apotential series of statements intended to clarify the situation and topropose a solution.

    Please state your name and your academic qualifications.

    Subject (hereafter S): My name is Isaac Bullington, and I am emeritus pro-fessor of applied linguistics. I have worked in the field for 40 years andhave taught applied linguistics courses in the Department of Linguisticsand language teacher preparation courses in the Department of Educa-tion. I have published widely in the field and have been recognized by(among other distinctions) awards from AAAL and TESOL.

    P: Clearly, you are qualified to offer information in this matter, and westipulate that your comments shall be accepted. Please state yourgeneral view of the respective roles of theory and practice in the field.

    S: It is important to look at this matter from a historical point of viewfirst. As Docherry has remarked (in the early 1990s), there has beena gradual shift over the past 40 years away from what might bethought of as scientific knowledge toward some sort of narrative knowl-edgea rejection of notions of Marxism, liberalism, democracy, andthe changes attributed to the industrial revolutionin short, a move-ment in the direction of the relative and the local. This was a move-ment across structuralism (in the sense of a correction and modern-ization of the ideas of the Enlightenment), rejecting the subjective inexistentialism and psychoanalysis in favor of a quest for the objectivein the patterning of social life (see, e.g., the work of Saussure &


  • Levi-Strauss), to poststructuralism, rejecting the scientific aspirationsof structuralism, and asserting that there is no truth and so there canbe no appropriate methodology, and so demonstrating the ancientclash between nominalism and realism. The result of this intellectualshift lies in the identification of the political, but with the followingproblem: Does the shift reveal the quest of a just politics or the questfor just a politics? This question resulted in a development that led towhat might be termed critical applied linguistics. The work of PittCorder (in the 1960s and 1970s) was an early attempt at a modernisttheory; Corders ideas were replaced by theories arising from post-structuralism and postmodernismcritical theory, critical discourseanalysis, and critical applied linguistics. Are language teachers, now,to abandon skills training, to conduct lessons which are really discus-sions of the distribution and use of power, or are the new theoreticalperceptions intended merely to guide the selection of texts for learn-ers so that they must focus on cultural relativity (as it is manifested infilm and the media)?

    P: Excuse me, Professor Bullington, but it seems to me you are lecturingand thereby not dealing with the question at hand. You seem not tohave said anything about practice or of the relationship betweenpractice and theory.

    S: Please, you are rushing me and you seem not to understand that thequestion must be addressed from both a synchronic and a diachronicperspective. Now, in critical discourse analysis there was a seriousfallacy, as Stubbs (around 1997) noted; practitioners look in thewrong place for something, then complain that they cant find it, andsuggest that it is being concealed from them. In other words, theo-rizing from the critical perspective means using the techniques ofdiscourse analysis to provide a political critique of the social con-textone that is Marxist from a Marxist viewpoint, feminist from afeminist viewpoint. The critical theorists claim that there is a needto develop a socially responsible theory of languageone committedto social justice. However, is the theory to represent a movementtoward a just politics or toward just a politics? The critical theoristsexpose the way in which language is exploited through the covertinsinuation of ideological influences by carefully selecting and inter-preting whatever linguistic features suit their ideological position andsimply ignoring the rest.

    P: Professor Bullington, while Im reluctant to interrupt the flow of yourthought, may I point out that you havent yet said anything aboutpractice. Our time is limited.

    S: Yes, yes, but you are in fact interrupting my train of thought. Youmust understand that it takes weeks in a teacher-training course tocover the material I am trying to synthesize for you briefly and con-cisely. No doubt students will have some difficulty in grasping all thesubtleties of the development Im trying to outline, but the brighterones will be able to manage. In any case, your interruptions and your


  • pressing me to address the matter of practice creates a position some-what akin to that taken by some contemporary scholarse.g., Ramp-tonto the effect that all is practice; that is, there is no theory, noreason, but rather only lots of reasons, uncoordinated, disjointed, theextreme of postmodernism. In such a solution, there is no role forlinguists or applied linguists, and the role of educators consists ofdealing with a disconnected group of individual teachers working insome vague sense of collaboration. You see, if it is not possible totrace the development of the field both synchronously and diachroni-cally then there is nothing left to talk about; all that remains is adisjointed kind of practice unhinged from the sort of structure thatsupports all social science and leaves odd bits that can exist onlywithin teacher education.


    Robert B. Kaplan, emeritus professor of applied linguistics at the University of South-ern California, Los Angeles, United States, was the founding editor-in-chief of theAnnual Review of Applied Linguistics, a member of the editorial board of the OxfordInternational Encyclopedia of Linguistics (1992, 2002), and editor of the Oxford Handbookof Applied Linguistics. He has served as president of NAFSA, TESOL, and AAAL.

    TESOL, Applied Linguistics, and theButterfly Effect

    ALAN DAVIESUniversity of EdinburghEdinburgh, Scotland

    What interests me in this discussion, initiated by Alister Cumming, isthe use of the term theory. Let me start with the butterfly effect. This termis often attributed to Ray Bradbury in his science fiction story A Soundof Thunder (Bradbury, 2005, pp. 203215), which first appeared in1952, but the idea goes back to Duhem (1906/1954). It was taken up byEdward Lorenz (1972) in his talk to the American Association for theAdvancement of Science, which was given the title: Does the flap of abutterflys wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

    Is this a theoretical question or, rather, does it make a theoreticalclaim? Obviously not in the strict sense because there is no way of re-versing time so as to experiment with and without the flap of the but-terflys wings. At the same time, in a differentwidersense of theory,



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