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The denial of ideology in perceptions of “nonnative speaker” teachers

The Denial of Ideology in Perceptions of
‘Nonnative Speaker’ Teachers
ADRIAN HOLLIDAY
Canterbury Christ Church Unversity
Canterbury, England

PAMELA ABOSHIHA
Canterbury Christ Church Unversity
Canterbury, England

There is now general acceptance that the traditional ‘nonnative
speaker’ label for teachers of English is problematic on sociolinguistic
grounds and can be the source of employment discrimination.
However, there continues to be disagreement regarding how far there
is a prejudice against ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers which is deep and
sustained and connected to an inherent racism within the fabric of
Western society. This article argues that there is such a deep and
sustained prejudice but that it is not recognised because of a denial of
the ideology which underpins it on two fronts. The first is perceptions
of objectivity and accountability in the dominant modernist research
paradigm. The second is common descriptions of other cultures, under

the headings of individualism and collectivism, which appear on the
surface to be neutral, but are in fact underpinned by cultural prejudice.
However, a postmodern qualitative research methodology is able to
engage with the subjectivities of the unspoken discourses of TESOL
professionalism, and therefore to uncover elements of global positioning and politics behind the ‘nonnative speaker’ teacher label, which in
turn reveal an ideology of racism.

growing number of teachers and researchers claim that there is a
hidden racism within TESOL professionalism which is directed at
so-called ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers. However, others feel there is
insufficient objective evidence that this phenomenon is widespread. We
address this issue of evidence by evaluating first the research
methodology, and then the dominant beliefs about culture which
affect the way in which race is perceived. The article concludes with an
alternative explanation of the ‘nonnative speaker’ teacher label which is
related to cultural politics.

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‘NONNATIVE SPEAKER’ TEACHERS AND RACE
There has been a growing discussion in the past 20 years regarding
the traditional ‘native–nonnative speaker’ distinction. This is mapped by
Moussu & Llurda’s (2008) state-of-the-art article. They argue that the
distinction is losing its relevance within the context of the expanding
nature of English, the increased recognition of teachers with a wide
variety of language backgrounds (p. 316), and evidence that language
learners do not find it meaningful (p. 328). Other factors in the
discussion are that so-called ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers are no longer
confined to a home country status and compete with so-called ‘native
speaker’ teachers in every respect across the world (Holliday, 2008, p.


128) with the added dimension to their repertoires of bi- or multilingual
experience and layered identities (Petric´, 2009).
It is also now fairly well established that ‘nonnative speakers’ have
been discriminated against in employment because of a historical
widespread belief in the dominance of presumed ‘native speaker’
standards in language and language teaching methodology (e.g.,
Aboshiha, 2008, p. 129; Ali, 2009; Braine, 1999, p. xiii; Holliday,
2005b, p. 13). There is also a growing understanding that this
discrimination can be racist—where the image of a ‘native speaker’
teacher is associated with Whiteness (e.g., Aboshiha, 2008, p. 129;
Holliday, 2008, p. 124; Kubota & Lin, 2006). This association is complex.
On the one hand, many so-called ‘nonnative speakers’ may be
considered White and may therefore pass as ‘native speakers’ (Connor
as cited in Kubota et al., 2005) and, on the other hand, racism may no
longer be associated with colour, now recognised as an indefinable
notion, but with any Other group which is imagined to be deficient
(Delanty, Jones, & Wodak, 2008, p. 1).
However, there seem to be differing views about how deeply rooted
this discrimination is. Whereas some believe it may be solved by
establishing antidiscrimination principles in major professional bodies
such as TESOL (Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 330), others believe it is
hidden within the discoursal structure of the profession and much
harder to address. An example of the latter is the recent report of one of
the authors (Aboshiha, 2008) concerning a sustained, powerful
chauvinistic discourse among British teachers directed at both ‘nonnative speaker’ colleagues and students. Aboshiha observed that
The profession seemingly does nothing to examine these ‘‘loaded discourses’’
either at the beginning of teachers’ careers or during them, so in this way it is
possible for such discourses to be unendingly perpetrated and the superior
identity of the ‘‘native speaker’’ teacher endlessly reinforced throughout the
teachers’ careers. (p. 149)
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This report adds to descriptions of the perpetuation of a chauvinistic
professional discourse in Anderson’s (2003) ethnography of professional practice in a British language centre and Baxter’s (2003)
ethnography of British teacher training, both reported at length in
Holliday (2005).This discourse is further evidenced in two empirical
works investigating the status and experiences of ‘nonnative speaker’
teachers in England (Unsain Giraudo, 2007) and Mexico (Armenta,
2008). These studies suggest that there is a cultural chauvinism toward
‘nonnative speaker’ teachers and students that resides so deeply within
the ideological structure of the profession that teachers can be either
unaware of it or ignore it.
Ideology can be defined as a system of ideas put to work to justify,
maintain, or act as weapons for vested social interests (Berger &
Luckmann, 1979, p. 18; Gellner, 2005, p. 2; Spears, 1999b, p. 19). But it
is indeed very possible that someone can be ‘‘typically unaware’’ of their
own ideological position, or to hold ideological positions which are
‘‘incompatible with his or her overt political or social beliefs and
affiliations, without being aware of any contradiction’’ (Fairclough, 1995,
p. 42). This is the basis of the liberal–essentialist duality which we discuss
later.
It is thus quite probable that if there is a sustained racist ideology
deep within the fabric of TESOL professionalism, it is hard to establish
its existence and easy to deny. The research methodology which is able
to address this question needs to be equipped to dig deep to address
issues of hidden ideology in professional practice.

ISSUES WITH RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
In this respect there are significant divisions between what we will call
modernist and postmodern viewpoints, while appreciating that there are
many positions in between. Most modernist viewpoints emphasize
efficiency, objectivity, dependability, accountability, and liberation from
ideology. Most postmodern viewpoints acknowledge ideology within
everything and engage with the pervasive subjectivity which this implies.

The Struggle to be Objective
At the more modernist end of the spectrum is Moussu and Llurda’s
(2008) problematization of what they consider to be the more subjective
forms of evidence. They comment that much of the work concerning
race and ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers has been ‘‘based on nonempirical
think-pieces’’ which rely on personal experiences and narratives which,
they say, although possessing verisimilitude and an important background
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to research, lack the required empirical verification to achieve proper
social science status. They argue that ‘‘excessive reliance on this kind of
work poses a clear danger to the field’’ with an ‘‘inflationist repetition
of the same ideas in different words and by different authors’’ (pp.
333–334). This is a very important point, which relates in some way to
the warning presented by Spack (1997) that successive referencing of
ideas from one writer to another results in a distortion of knowledge
(p. 771).
A similar point is made by Waters (2007) in his critique of one of the
authors’ own use of a description of a conference event as evidence of
chauvinistic native-speakerism (Holliday, 2005, p. 25). Waters argues
that
the participants in the session were assumed to have used it [the conference
presentation] to construct a racial stereotype of the members of the culture
in question. However, . . . no empirical evidence (for example, interview or
questionnaire data) is provided to support it. The analysis appears to be
based entirely on the author’s own presuppositions. (2007, p. 357)

The reply to Waters was as follows:
The conference event must not be seen in isolation, but as part of a
thick description which extends across the whole book within which it is
presented. . . . The analysis of the event is thus made in the light of a broader
picture emerging from email interviews with 36 colleagues from 14 countries,
descriptions of professional behaviour in conferences and other events, two
ethnographic studies of teaching and training in British ELT . . . , and my own
personal narrative of professional experience as depicted in documents and
reconstructed events. (Holliday, 2007b, p. 361, original emphasis)

Thick description is a well-established method for building understanding from pieces of data within a specific research setting which,
because of richness of their interconnection, contribute more than the
sum of their parts (Geertz, 1993, p. 6). However, the normal
understanding of thick description is stretched in this reply to Waters
to a wide range of instances from different locations and times. This
more creative, postmodern research approach is in stark contrast to the
more modernist approach advocated by Moussu and Llurda (2008).

Scientific Engagement with Subjectivity
The difference between a modernist and a postmodern approach to
qualitative research is discussed by a number of theorists (Clifford, 1986;
Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 11; Gubrium & Holstein, 1997; Hammersley
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& Atkinson, 1995). The modernist, or postpositivist, or naturalist
approach, while acknowledging the need to access deeper social
meanings, seeks to maintain scientific objectivity by keeping the
researcher detached from research subjects as though a fly on the wall
and to maintain the control of variables found in quantitative research.
Moussu and Llurda (2008) suggest the same type of rigour for
interviews, where ‘‘researchers should be very serious about not exerting
any influence on subjects’ responses’’ and ‘‘in which the population is
strictly controlled’’ (p. 336).
In contrast, the postmodern approach, which relates to critical theory,
constructivism, and feminism, feels the need to engage with subjectivity.
It is asserted that researchers cannot help but interact with the social
worlds they study, and that they bring their own ideologies to this
interaction. Within a postmodern approach, scientific rigour does not
therefore reside in methods such as interviews per se, but in the manner
in which researchers manage their subjective engagement with the world
around them. Rather than claiming validity on the basis of objectivity,
postmodern qualitative researchers thus need to provide detailed
justification for how their choices of research design suit the specificities
of the social setting and the researcher–subject relations which they
generate (Holliday, 2007a, pp. 9, 151). These choices relate to the
nature of the research setting as it is revealed, and a wide range of data
types are available. These can include descriptions of behaviour, of
events, of institutional settings, of the appearance of locations, and of
research events; personal narratives, subjects’ accounts, talk (what
people say), visual records and documents (pp. 62–63). Just as survey
and interview design can easily be invalidated by superficial design
(Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 334), so too can narratives, and one of the
shortcomings of published journal articles is the lack of space to allow a
full account of the various types of methodological rigor which need to
be applied.
The ‘‘postmodern researcher is in a position to dig deeper and reveal
the hidden and the counter’’ (Holliday, 2007a, p. 19), which is
particularly relevant to the uncovering of hidden racism in TESOL.
One such example is Honarbin-Holliday’s (2005) ethnography of
Iranian university fine art departments, where she incorporates
descriptions of herself as a participant researcher in ethnographic
accounts and takes photographs of students with whom she coconstructs the nature of their pose to demonstrate how her own
presence as a practising artists is instrumental in encouraging her
participants to reveal previously unheard discourses. Duan (2007) also
uses progressive conversations, and then, a year later, more formal
interviews, to uncover at the same time parallel and conflicting

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discourses among Chinese high school students with regard to the
pressures of the national university entrance examination.
The function of such studies is different to that of surveys or interview
research which sample populations to achieve statistical evidence of
phenomena. Their purpose is instead to illuminate or to problematize;
and it may indeed be the juxtaposition of such individualistic studies
which create a macro thick description of what might be going on.

Working With Rich Data
A particular example of a postmodern qualitative methodology in
action, employing thick description, is one of the authors’ study,
referred to above, of British ‘native speaker’ teachers (Aboshiha, 2008).
The core data are taken only from seven experienced career teachers.
However, the aim is not to prove a statistical point through the
statements of a representative sample, but to drill down into the
workings of a professional discourse in order to critique established
positions. This methodology develops in dialogue with what is found;
and the interviews are complemented with descriptions of critical
incidents which ‘‘were flashbulbs, creating and illuminating’’ the
researcher’s ‘‘own realizations about the everyday discourses at work’’
(p. 78).
Because the researcher is a practising teacher who shares considerable
professional experience with her subjects, she is able to uncover ‘‘a social
world formed by the words, actions and expressed intentions of the
teachers’’ juxtaposed with her ‘‘own perspectives on their ideas and
reactions’’ (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 75). Hence,
Teachers in the group and one teacher in particular, tell professional stories
over time. They also tell the stories to another teacher, the researcher, who is
involved in the same or similar professional contexts. It is thus important to
acknowledge that these narratives are then ‘‘positioned,’’ that is reconstructed ‘‘by a particular person [the researcher], at a particular moment, in a
particular location, for a particular audience, and for a particular purpose.
The understandings of experience constructed through each storytelling are
necessarily situated understandings.’’ (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 79, citing Fay)

The outcome, informed by Atkinson (1990), is thus a text which
presents the reader not only with the complex surface of the writer’s
ideological commitments but also with those interwoven stretches of ‘‘voices’’
of respondents, that is small glimpses of the social world the respondents
inhabit. . . . The persuasiveness of the ethnography is due to this continued
interplay of commentary and exemplification as the story moves from voice to
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voice . . . a kaleidoscope of differing and complementing dialogues which
shift from the abstract to the concrete, from my researcher’s voice to the
voices of the researched, from the past time of the teacher respondents and
the researcher as teacher to the present time of the reader and the researcher
as analyst. (Aboshiha, 2008, pp. 79–80)

Throughout, the researcher responds to this complexity with careful
accounting for each step she takes in working out how to respond
rigorously. There is considerable discussion of how to manage
researcher–subject relationships, for example ‘‘the problem of ‘overrapport’ with participants who are involved in the same field and are
enthusiastic or irritated by similar issues as the researcher in his/her
normal daily role’’ (pp. 89–90).

An Unspoken ‘Native Speaker’ Teacher Discourse
There is a particular breakthrough in the thesis resulting from
observation of the researcher’s own role in an interview with one of the
teachers about how a colleague has been discriminated against because
of being a ‘nonnative speaker’:
In this exchange with Jane it appears that the learners reject the teacher in
question because he is not ‘‘white,’’ although the word is not articulated when
explaining why the learners have rejected the teacher. Moreover, Jane and I
both refrain from saying ‘‘coloured,’’ although I say ‘‘brown.’’ However,
earlier I have refrained from asking ‘‘So they really want a white teacher?’’ In
fact Jane even talks about this teacher as ‘‘the one,’’ rather than ‘‘the
teacher,’’ demarking him as different in her own mind. I also say ‘‘someone
who’d been born in London,’’ again avoiding having to say ‘‘a coloured
teacher’’ but we are both aware that this was the issue and yet continue to
avoid the reality. (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 130)

It is as a result of this and other incidents that it is possible to uncover
an ‘‘unspoken discourse that the learners (and probably the other staff)
would not accept a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher’’ (Aboshiha, 2008,
p. 133). As the researcher compares what the teachers says with critical
incidents in which she herself is involved, she understands her own
implicatedness in the chauvinism which is deeply embedded within the
discourse (p. 110). After herself witnessing a highly skilled Argentinean
teacher being overlooked in favour of less skilled British teachers, she
recollects, ‘‘I said once I thought it was unfair but then kept quiet
because I knew nothing would change’’ (p. 133).
The discourse of the British teachers unfolds gradually to reveal

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a superior professional identity, based on their pronunciation, classroom
practices, ethnicity, British educational backgrounds and their relational
stance to ‘‘non-native speaker’’ teachers. . . . a considerable discrepancy
between the lived reality of the ‘‘native speaker’’ teachers’ professional lives
and the new understandings of academics about English language teaching
in a globalizing world. (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 6)

The teachers also express considerable anger at what they considered to
be unuseful, impractical, ivory tower academic research. However, as
their e-mail correspondence with the researcher continues, they begin to
send ‘‘admissions’’ or ‘‘corrections’’ to their initial stance and begin
‘‘dropping the names’’ of well-known theorists they have read and
acknowledging the impact they have had on textbooks (Aboshiha, 2008,
pp. 170–172). At this point the researcher begins to realize, again, from
her own professional experience, that the teachers’ initial reticence in
making their academic knowledge public resulted from feelings of
unsureness about their own academic status (p. 177) and feelings of
‘‘being relegated to a plateau of ‘practical’ knowledge by line-managers
and institutions’’ where ‘‘they were afforded little scope to progress once
they were technically competent’’ (p. 183) being bored with there being
nothing new in teacher training and development (p. 184), and their
employers’ superficial ‘‘lip-service’’ to professional development (p.
186). A particular case of one teacher reveals that, aided by a
sympathetic manager, she begins to get actively involved in writing
and presenting at conferences on critical pedagogy and professional
development (p. 207). There is, however, a note of caution, because this
teacher ‘‘admitted. . . . , at the end of an interview how careful she would
need to be in communicating some of her opinions to colleagues for
fear of upsetting them’’ (p. 212).
One might consider the possibility that a plausible reason for the
superior Othering of the ‘nonnative speaker’ may be the result of
feelings of professional marginalization on the part of the British
teachers, which may explain this expression of anger from British
teacher Alex (a pseudonym), as he summarizes the content of a
conference presentation he attended:
Basically, ‘‘white man ‘native speaker’ bad.’’ We are all cultural and linguistic
imperialists, probably racist as well. . . . Whatever merits his argument might
have they will never be debated fully, only repeated ad nauseam by his
sycophants who have already elevated his argument to the level of self-evident
truth . . . Everybody only seems to focus on a one way system of cultural
imperialism i.e. western (white) over non-western (non-whites). It is utterly
OK for non-westerners to rubbish, trash etc. anything done by ‘‘whites’’ but
should a ‘‘white’’ argue back, or try to defend a position he is immediately
condemned as a ‘‘cultural imperialist’’ or as a ‘‘racist,’’ or both. What most
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people don’t, or won’t, recognise is that ‘‘western’’ teachers in foreign lands
have to put up with criticism of their culture, country, government on a
regular basis from their students . . . The teachers are just being too polite, or
are not prepared to risk their jobs by arguing with students who might go to
the administration and complain about the teacher. (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 193,
citing interview)

Not only racist Othering of ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers but also the
nature of the professional ideology which makes it possible thus begins
to become evident. The emergent picture of an ideology of superiority
based on a ‘native speaker’ birthright which is under attack both by a
lack of academic status and accusations of linguistic imperialism
corresponds with the suggestion made at the beginning of this article
that the controversy around the ownership of English has diverted
attention away from issues of race. Alex’s outburst indicates a full
recognition of being threatened by the linguistic imperialism while at
the same time indicating a denial of complicity in the Othering of
‘nonnative speaker’ colleagues. Alex may also be resisting a perceived
hegemony of ‘‘political correctness’’ which Waters (2007) says is
imposing an ‘‘ideological power-structure of its own’’ and ‘‘exaggerates
the extent to which both NSs [native speakers] actually exercise
hegemony over NNSs [‘nonnative speaker’s], and the extent to which
they are perceived by NNSs to do so’’ (p. 358).
It needs to be emphasized here that a crucial part of a postmodern
methodology, as employed in this study, is researchers using their own
professional experience as a basis for dialogue with the data, which is an
added basis for pinning together thick description (Holliday, 2005a).

ISSUES WITH CULTURE
The second key to a possible lack of awareness with regard to race and
perceptions of speakerhood is the preoccupation with culture as a
neutral entity. We define neutral to mean something which is a matter of
technical fact or science which is therefore devoid of chauvinism, and
which can therefore be associated with the modernistic notion of
research methodology discussed so far. Professions depend on neutral
technical terms to define expertise in such a way that the products of
their work are accountable and valued by clients and customers. At a very
obvious level, this can be seen in the use of ‘native speaker’ and
‘nonnative speaker’ as though they are neutral terms despite the
evidence that they can no longer be validated on linguistic grounds
(Moussu & Llurda, 2008, p. 351). Other examples are the concepts of
‘‘skills, learner-training’’, and ‘‘autonomy’’ being treated as neutral terms
even though they are deeply contested in critical literature within
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TESOL and education (e.g., Anderson, 2003; Clark & Ivanicˇ, 1997;
Holliday, 2005b; Palfreyman & Smith, 2004; Usher & Edwards, 1994).
The preoccupation with culture in TESOL is long-standing and
derives from a strong association between the second languages of our
students and their national cultures. As such, culture is the established
location of ‘‘problems’’ associated with language learning behaviour and
content. The ‘‘problem’’ may, however, not be with culture per se, but
with the manner in which culture has become a safe heading under
which to discuss difference related to a foreign Other. The outcome is a
neoracism, which
rationalizes the subordination of people of colour on the basis of culture . . .
[but] is still racism, in that it functions to maintain racial hierarchies of
oppression. Its new ideological focus on culture has the same function, and
provides a vast new field to mine for supposed causes of the lower
achievement of groups of colour base on dysfunctional attitudes, values,
and orientations. (Spears, 1999b, p. 15)

(See also Delanty, Wodak, & Jones, 2008, p. 2; Jordan & Weedon, 1995,
p. 157; Kubota & Lin, 2006, p. 476.) It is thus possible to draw a direct
parallel between a possible racism which remains hidden within our
‘‘nice TESOL profession’’ with racism which is hidden beneath an
apparent celebration of cultural diversity in Western liberal multiculturalism (Kubota, 2002, 2004; Lentin, 2008; Wodak, 2008).
Multiculturalism is a set of beliefs through which education, the media,
government policy and other institutions, deal with an influx of people
from different national and cultural backgrounds. It has been criticized
for its superficial focus on food, clothing, festivals, and ceremonies,
which has been considered patronizing and an oversimplification of
complex identities (e.g., Hall, 1991b, p. 55; Y. Y. Kim, 2005;
Kumaravadivelu, 2007, pp. 104–106; Latour, 2006; Spears, 1999b). This
attitude to difference has also influenced the way in which the West
looks out upon the world as a place to experience and collect culture, as
an exotic commodity, through tourism and other activities (e.g., Jordan
& Weedon, 1995, p. 150; McCannell, 1992, pp. 158–170; Urry, 2002, pp.
2, 5), and can also be connected to a dominant image of globalization
which suits Western markets (e.g., Bhabha, 1994, pp. 207–209;
Canagarajah, 1999, 2006, p. 230). It is argued that racism nevertheless
persists ‘‘in every corner of society’’ (Kubota & Lin, 2006, p. 479; also
Spears, 1999a, p. 8). There are thus deep contradictions, following the
point made earlier regarding contradictory ideology, with stated
egalitarian principles conflicting with chauvinistic attitudes toward a
foreign Other:

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Ideas of equal rights, universalism, humanism, and democracy . . . were not
extended to the ‘‘others.’’ The contemporary European dilemma is based
mainly on the contradictory nature of the ‘‘imagined creed’’ of universalism,
equal treatment and humanism, whose selective application is based upon
imagined ‘‘races’’ and ‘‘cultures’’ that divide humanity in a hierarchy ordered
around superior ‘‘us’’ and inferior ‘‘them.’’ (Kamali, 2008, p. 301)

Associating the ‘native–nonnative speaker’ issue with a hidden racism in
this way thus taps into an established discussion within critical sociology.

The Professionalization of ‘Culture’ as a Problem
The teachers in the study described in the first half of this article do
not hold back from categorizing their colleagues and students in Japan,
the Gulf, and Portugal as culturally deficient because of inferior
educational systems (Aboshiha, 2008, p. 105), cultures which they
identify as ‘‘hostile to change,’’ being subdued by memorization, lacking
in academic skills, never having been taught logic and philosophy
(p. 107), being out of touch owing to a lack of literature translated into
English (p. 108); teachers not wanting their students to be creative,
interactive, and happy (p. 109); lacking autonomy, and, when they do
demonstrate autonomy, this is not aimed at language learning but at
getting through exams (p. 112); not interested in culture (p. 118);
teachers not wanting to lose face by having their authority undermined
(p. 143); and ‘‘lack of knowledge of the real world,’’ by which is meant
‘‘Western knowledge’’ (p. 198). Aboshiha carefully checks out several
of these accusations and discovers that they are blatantly untrue. The
obvious chauvinism in these descriptions can, however, go unnoticed
because of the manner in which cultural difference is professionalized
within TESOL so that it appears neutral.
The characterizations of the cultures of so-called ‘nonnative speakers’
used by the teachers correlate closely with the long-standing notion of
collectivist cultures, which Triandis (2004) describes as located very
specifically in geographical regions. Hence, ‘‘people from collectivist
cultures’’ are ‘‘Latin Americans, Southern Europeans, East and South
Asians, Africans.’’ These are contrasted with people ‘‘from individualist
cultures,’’ who are ‘‘North Americans of European backgrounds, North
and West Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders’’ (pp. ix–xi). If this
gross oversimplification does not speak for itself, several critical theorists
have pointed out that associating individualism with the always-positive
attributes of being consistent, open to new experiences, having fun, and
self-reliance, and collectivism with the always-negative attributes of
circular thinking, being closed to new experiences, and deferential to
group tradition (Triandis, 2004, pp. x–xi) are far from neutral and
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represent the ideological projection of an imagined superior Western
Self on an imagined inferior Other (e.g., Kumaravadivelu, 2007, p. 15;
Moon, 2008, p. 16). M.-S. Kim (2005) argues that the individualism–
collectivism division Others non-Western people as ‘‘barbarians
(p. 108).’’
Individualism and collectivism can thus be said to be neoracist
categories because of the role they play in a dominant Western TESOL
discourse which seeks to ‘‘correct’’ the cultures of ‘nonnative speaker’
teachers and students based on the conviction that these cultures are
lacking in individualist abilities to think critically, to be autonomous, to
speak out, and to plan and manage, citing (Holliday, 2005b, p. 19;
Pennycook, and Kubota: see also Kumaravadivelu, 2003; Nayar, 2002).
This form of Othering is recognised by a number of critical theorists to
be a postcolonial successor to the Western Orientalist characterization
of the non-West as culturally deficient (e.g., Hall, 1991a, 1991b;
Pennycook, 1998; Said, 1978).

Locking Action Within Structure
Nevertheless, despite these accusations, individualism and collectivism
continue to stand firm as neutral categories within both TESOL and
intercultural communication studies to the extent that they have become a
convenient everyday language for explaining behavior. Along with similar
categories in the work of Hofstede (2003), they have sustained theory
building for more than 25 years, despite being criticized for being too
ˇ egarac, & Spencer-Oatey, 2000, pp. 52–53;
simplistic (e.g., Bond, Z
McSweeny, 2002). They have succeeded because they provide the security
of precise, calculable, predictive, behavioral formulae for how to act in the
presence of people from specific national cultural groups.
The modernistic desire for neat national culture explanation
(Dobbin, 1994, pp. 124, 126) can trace its claim to validity back to basic
sociological theory. Structural–functionalism, which can be traced back
to the work of Emile Durkheim (e.g., 1933), and developed by Talcott
Parsons (1951), presented society as an organism which achieved
equilibrium through the functioning of its parts. A national culture is
therefore treated as a system which contains the complementary
elements of every aspect of social life—social structure, behaviour,
values, and ideology, each telling us something about the other. What is
observed about social behaviour can thus be explained and indeed
predicted in terms of the other parts and the functions of the whole.
Although this model helps us to understand the structural workings of
society, its holistic incorporation of everything within a solid, describable
system presents problems. The theory can be used to set norms in that
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it evaluates behaviour and values depending on whether they are
functional or dysfunctional (or deviant) to the equilibrium of the whole.
Therefore, if a culture is deemed collectivist, any behaviour within it can
be explained as contributing to (or as an exception to, or deviant), and
also determined by, its collectivism. Ideology is similarly contained as a
functioning part of the culture (Parsons, 1951, p. 331). This suits
modernism because descriptions of culture appear neutral because
ideology is part of the nature of what is being described rather than as a
driving force of the description. The methodology for describing and
predicting culture is positivist in that it takes as a starting point the
notion that national cultures do exist as solid entities with a known type
of structure within a world which is organized in a known manner. It is
also essentialist in that it presents people’s individual behaviour as
entirely defined and constrained by the national cultures in which they
live, so that the stereotype becomes the essence of who they are
(Keesing, 1994, p. 303). Social science then takes on the modernist
business of confirming, measuring and pinning down the details in such
a way that their social truth is enhanced.

Liberal–Essentialist Duality
Spack (1997) explains well the danger in this hunger for neat
definitions in her discussion of the ‘‘the rhetorical construction’’ of socalled ‘nonnative speaker’ students:
[It] may at first glance appear to be merely descriptive in nature. But when
teachers and researchers exercise the power to identify, we actually may be
imposing an ethnocentric ideology and inadvertently supporting the
essentializing discourse that represents cultural groups as stable or
homogeneous entities. Certainly we are limiting our world view. (p. 773)

We feel the reference to ‘‘inadvertently supporting an essentializing
discourse’’ (emphasis added) is significant because it relates to the
apparently neutral, ‘‘descriptive,’’ ‘‘detached’’ picture of ‘nonnative
speaker’ which hides an effective essentialism and is resonant with the
suggestion that we may be unaware of our own chauvinistic ideologies
referred to earlier in this article. The result is what we would like to term
a liberal–essentialist duality, in which there is a schizophrenic layering of a
liberal intention and an essentialist effect. Figure 1 (Holliday, 2009a)
attempts a dangerously simplistic architecture of how this duality operates.
The liberal side of the duality, on the left of the figure, represents
what we believe to be a genuine desire to oppose essentialist cultural
chauvinism. There is, however, also a desire for truth and fairness which
is seduced by the apparent neutrality of cultural description in the
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FIGURE 1. The liberal denial of ideology

essentialist package (centre of the figure), which hides the propensity
for cultural chauvinism (right of the figure). The dotted line in the
centre of the figure is thus crossed, and the dark side is courted. There
is thus a liberal naı¨vety which, because of its modernistic denial of
ideology, does not possess the degree of criticality to find chauvinism
within its own structures (Delanty, Wodak, & Jones, 2008, p. 14; Jordan &
Weedon, 1995; Y. Y. Kim, 2005). This results in a dominant paradigm for
looking at culture which remains neo-essentialist, which mirrors neoracism
implicit in the right of the figure. This thinking is reinforced within
intercultural communication studies. Despite an apparent appreciation
of the problems of essentialism in much current work, there is a clinging
on to the essentialist structures such as those of Hofstede (Holliday,
2009b). The positivism implicit in essentialism suits very well theory
building in the academy (Moon, 2008; Shuter, 2008, p. 38).

SEARCHING FOR NEW STRUCTURES
So far we have described a state of affairs which may be
nonconvertible. It may well be that the liberal–essentialist duality is
necessary for the workings of modernism, and that modernism is
necessary for efficient professional life. Berger and Luckmann (1979, p.
107) note that constructing social reality in this way is not a ‘‘perversion’’
or ‘‘a sort of cognitive fall from grace,’’ but a natural social process
common in theoretical and nontheoretical thought. This reminder does
not, however, mean that we should be complacent. By the same token we
could have said that racism is part of who we are as tribal beings, and it
may be that attempting social change in this respect has simply
succeeded in sending it underground. Such complacency simply falls
into the structural–functionalism trap. There are other social theories
that show us a way out.

Culture as Social Action and Politics
It can be argued that structural–functionalism is only one of three
early sociological traditions, the other two being Marxism and social
action theory. Social action theory can be traced back to the work of Max
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Weber (e.g., 1964, 1968), who, while carrying out extensive investigations of the nature of society and culture, made it a major point of his
methodology to say that the precise nature of human behaviour could
never be determined and that social structure, behaviour, and values
could not be neatly packaged into a solid organic system. Weber did
produce detailed explorations of major religious orders such as
Confucianism and Protestantism (e.g., Weber, 1977), but only to suggest
how they might influence the social structures against which the social
action of individuals needed to be expressed (Bendix, 1966, p. 261;
Dobbin, 1994, p. 118). Social action theory therefore places social
structure, politics, religion, the economy and so on, and ideology and
culture, all in dialogue with each other. From this dialogue can be
generated a trajectory of action which can also develop new cultural
behaviour. Culture is therefore connected with, but not necessarily
confined by, the other aspects of society. We say not necessarily because
sometimes political and other circumstances may severely reduce the
degree to which such choices can be acted out. It may therefore be the
case that particular educational structures may restrict the behaviour of
teachers and students, but this does not mean that they lack the ability to
act in other circumstances. Action can be a number of things—rational,
inspirational, traditional and so on (Weber, 1964, p. 115). This action is
able to generate something which has at least the potential of something
different. Indicative of this, Weber is interested in the power of
individuals to change existing orders, for example by means of charisma
(Bendix, 1966, p. 265). Different to the structural–functionalist model,
ideology can be a creative agent, as well as an inhibitor, in this process.
The social action view would therefore be open to the idea that
collectivism, as a cultural description, could be ideological in its
projection, rather than being a neutral description of the social system
itself. This resonates with the concern amongst political sociologists in
the 1940s, 50s, and 60s with regard to collectivism as an anti-individualist
doctrine and imposed order within totalitarian ‘‘closed societies’’ (e.g.,
Popper, 1966, p. 9, note 1). Although Popper does associate individualism with ‘‘Western civilization’’ and Christianity, and traces collectivism
to ‘‘tribalism’’’ (p. 102), he by no means sees this an exclusive and fixed
relationship, making it clear that Christianity has sometimes, for
example during the Inquisition, imposed collectivism and has the
potential to do so in the future (p. 104). It is therefore a very different
matter from fixing collectivism as a permanent feature of culture in the
south and non-Europe.
This multi-active-political picture of culture is also consonant with the
picture in King’s (1991) edited volume, in which a group of sociologists
write about culture not as sets of discrete describable entities, but as shifting,
sometimes indescribable phenomena that are deeply interconnected
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and politically and economically placed within worldwide processes
such as globalization and Centre–Periphery relations. The phenomenon of national culture is itself perceived as either gaining or losing in
importance, in different ways in different places, dependent on these
forces (e.g., Hall, 1991a).

Considering the ‘Native Speaker’ Label as a Political Act
We therefore find it useful to look at the apparent perceptions of the
British teachers in the study reported in the first half of this article in a
different way—not as possibly neutral descriptions of so-called ‘nonnative speaker’ teachers in cultural terms, but as an ideologically
motivated Othering of colleagues using the ‘nonnative speaker’ label.
Figure 2 presents a possible beginning of such an analysis.

FIGURE 2. Explaining cultural acts

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The parameters on the left of Figure 2 recognise that ‘collectivism’
and ‘individualism’ are statements about culture rather than accurate
descriptions of it (Row [a]), and that these statements are motivated by
professional and global identities, positioning, and politics (Rows [b–
c]). Significantly, the final row also indicates that the manner in which
the teachers project the foreign Other is an artefact of actual
professional cultural behaviour which is of a universal nature. This
reiterates our earlier comment that Othering is a natural part of human
group behaviour, but that this does not make it inexcusable.

CONCLUSION
The analysis presented in this article is based on understandings of
British teachers in a doctoral study carried out by Aboshiha (2008) and
other literature referred to in this aricle. We suggest that the rigour of
this research is capable of revealing a convincing picture and may
indeed qualify to position such an analysis somewhat outside what
Moussu and Llurda (2008, p. 333) refer to as ‘‘think pieces.’’ Our
purpose has not been to establish that there is a deep racist ideology
within the fabric of Western TESOL professionalism, but to suggest how
we need to look at our professionalism to address its possibility, and to
reassess what counts as evidence. We would, however, maintain that the
danger of Western TESOL, in its apparent concern for equality, often
unknowingly, imposing Othering meaning on the majority of teachers is
certainly there, and cannot be addressed without a more realistic
attitude toward ideology.
Spack (1997), again, provides some insight regarding the way forward
in her discussion of students:
If we are concerned about the construction of students’ identities, perhaps
we should ask not ‘‘What should we name students?’’ but ‘‘Should we name
students?’’ . . . As teachers and researchers of English, we also need to
examine our own identities, to own up to the position of power from which
we name students, and to find room in our pedagogy and scholarship for
students to name themselves and thus define and construct their own
identities. (p. 773)

The reference to so-called ‘nonnative speakers’ ‘‘naming themselves,’’
and the struggle which this may imply, relates to critical cosmopolitan
literatures which say that we need to listen to Periphery voices (e.g.,
Bhabha, 1994, pp. xv–xvi; Delanty, 2006, p. 27; Guilherme, 2007, p. 75;
Hall, 1991a, p. 34; Stevenson, 2003, p. 66) and somehow overturn what
appears to be the incessant meaning-imposing which characterizes the
Centre position of the West (Hannerz, 1991, p. 107). ‘‘Owning up to the
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position of power’’ requires recognising the ‘nonnative speaker’ label,
and the attendant descriptions of what teachers from particular cultures
can or cannot do, as ideological—as embodying a politics of chauvinism
which is, in effect, racist. This recognition requires an analysis, not of
difference, but of the cultural psychology of insisting on imposing
difference. An understanding of culture should therefore be used not to
label people, but to get to the bottom of how and why they label the
Other.
THE AUTHORS
Adrian Holliday is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Canterbury Christ Church
University, Canterbury, England, where he supervises doctoral research in the
critical sociology of language education and intercultural communication and is also
the Head of the Graduate School.
Pamela Aboshiha is Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University,
Canterbury, England, where she directs the MA TESOL program. She is also an
assessor for Cambridge ESOL Teaching Awards. Her main interest is teacher
education, particularly the integration of theory with practice.

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