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Consumerism as Lingua Franca in ELT? Ideologies in a Thai Textbook Series



Neoliberal regimes of language have now become a particularly widespread feature of English language teaching (ELT) across the globe, largely because local actors in the Global South have appropriated key elements of neoliberalism. However, as ideologies like neoliberalism are transferred to new contexts and combined with existing ideological regimes, they undergo conceptual transformation. This chapter examines the conceptual nexuses that emerged between neoliberalism and other ideologies in three books from a Thai ELT textbook series (Expanding Readings Skills, published by Chulalongkorn University Press). Drawing on the discourse-historical approach to critical discourse analysis, the chapter examines the use of discourse strategies in order to study how elements of neoliberal ideology have been localized through emergent synergies with other ideologies. The findings indicate that only certain elements of neoliberalism were present in this textbook, namely those associated with consumer culture. These are linked with ideological elements specific to the Thai educational context, for instance those linked to Thai nationalism and conservative morals. The results also highlight that, while it generally avoided controversy, Expanding Reading Skills did provide some windows for the formulation of more critical classroom discourse, providing greater cultural authenticity than is often the case with ELT textbooks.
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in the Global South, Language Policy 29,
Chapter 6
Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT?
Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
Abstract Neoliberal regimes of language have now become a particularly wide-
spread feature of English language teaching (ELT) across the globe, largely because
local actors in the Global South have appropriated key elements of neoliberalism.
However, as ideologies like neoliberalism are transferred to new contexts and com-
bined with existing ideological regimes, they undergo conceptual transformation.
This chapter examines the conceptual nexuses that emerged between neoliberalism
and other ideologies in three books from a Thai ELT textbook series (Expanding
Readings Skills, published by Chulalongkorn University Press). Drawing on the
discourse-historical approach to critical discourse analysis, the chapter examines
the use of discourse strategies in order to study how elements of neoliberal ideology
have been localized through emergent synergies with other ideologies. The ndings
indicate that only certain elements of neoliberalism were present in this textbook,
namely those associated with consumer culture. These are linked with ideological
elements specic to the Thai educational context, for instance those linked to Thai
nationalism and conservative morals. The results also highlight that, while it gener-
ally avoided controversy, Expanding Reading Skills did provide some windows for
the formulation of more critical classroom discourse, providing greater cultural
authenticity than is often the case with ELT textbooks.
Keywords Neoliberalism · Consumerism · Nationalism · Morality · Authenticity ·
Globalization · Ideology · Recontextualization · Critical discourse analysis ·
K. Savski (*)
Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai, Thailand
The dening characteristic of contemporary English language teaching (ELT), as
both a professional and academic eld, is its globalized nature. By participating in
English language education today, whether in the role of a teacher, learner,
researcher, or a combination of those, individuals are socialized into a eld which
transcends the borders of any local context, thus becoming part of global cultural
ows (Appadurai, 1990) through which resources of various kinds, either linguistic,
material or conceptual, are exchanged across the borders of traditional communi-
ties. Global textbooks are a key part of these cultural ows, as they have, alongside
global tests like IELTS and TOEFL, now become a ubiquitous part of grass-roots
ELT practice. So widespread is their impact that Akbari (2008) argues that text-
books, not theoretically-grounded teaching methods like communicative language
teaching, have become primary determiners of teaching practices in many contexts.
As a result of their prominence and inuence, it is unsurprising that much
research has focused on ELT textbooks, examining especially how contemporary
textbooks mediate particular ideologies. Studies have for instance examined the
representation of language and culture in contemporary textbooks, typically nding
an overwhelming bias toward objectivizing particular cultures (e.g. Canale, 2016)
and toward ‘native speaker’ standard varieties of English (e.g. Rose & Galloway,
2019). Similarly, there has been extensive research on the way societies are repre-
sented in textbooks, with results of such studies nding a particular tendency toward
the promotion of ideological constructs associated with neoliberalism (Bori, 2021;
Gray, 2010a, b; Gray & Block, 2014; Jalalian Daghigh & Abdul Rahim, 2021;
Xiong & Yuan, 2018). While denitions differ, the broad understanding of neoliber-
alism in this chapter will be that it is an ideology which, seen from a macro-social
perspective, argues for wide-ranging deregulation of economic processes, back-
grounding the state as an economic actor in favour of a universal preference for
private, for-prot enterprises competing on a free market (Klein, 2007). From a
micro-social perspective, neoliberalism places high rhetorical value on the individ-
ual as a participant in economic processes, not only as a consumer but also as the
object of market forces, driven toward continuous self-improvement in the name of
public interest (De Costa etal., 2019; Ng, 2018).
While the presence of neoliberal ideological constructs in textbooks has been
extensively studied, such research has generally focussed on global textbooks, i.e.
those which are developed and marketed by large corporations (Gray, 2010b). There
has been much less attention on the inuence of neoliberalism on textbook develop-
ment in particular local contexts, on what elements of neoliberalism are relevant to
the discourse of locally-developed textbooks, and on the interaction between neo-
liberalism and local ideologies in such textbooks. The purpose of this chapter is to
examine such issues by focussing on an ELT textbook series developed in Thailand,
a nation conventionally associated with the Global South. The chapter begins with
a discussion of how the concept of ideology can be understood in a globalized age,
before passing to a description of the empirical study and a discussion of its ndings.
K. Savsk i
Discourse, Ideology andGlobalization inELT
My approach to examining neoliberalism in ELT textbooks in this chapter is con-
ceptually and methodologically grounded in critical discourse studies (CDS)
(Wodak & Meyer, 2015). In CDS as an emerging transdisciplinary eld, while there
has been general agreement that discourse can be dened in terms of social interac-
tion and exchange of ideas (ibid.), denitions of ideology have differed somewhat.
Much of the thinking about ideology in CDS is rooted in how the concept was used
by Marx, to refer to particular beliefs which get mobilized in order to create a col-
lective ‘false consciousness’, thus supporting a social status quo (see e.g. Fairclough,
2001). Juxtaposed with this understanding has been Van Dijk’s (1998) somewhat
broader conceptualization of ideologies as systems of social representation shared
by members of a community, an open-ended denition whose focus on taking into
account many kinds of belief systems bears much similarity to those used to char-
acterize language ideologies in sociolinguistics (e.g. Woolard & Schieffelin, 1994).
For the purposes of this chapter, I will draw on these latter denitions and see ide-
ologies as pre-packaged systems of beliefs, often involving positive or negative
evaluations of people, ideas, practices. Such beliefs are shared within communities,
where ideologies mediate relations of power, being often mobilized to legitimate a
particular social status quo and establish hegemony. However, as exemplied below,
ideologies can also mediate resistance to hegemony in cases where the emergence
of a common set of beliefs in a community allows for a challenge to the status quo
to be formulated (Savski, 2021).
One consequence of taking such an open-ended view of ideology is that there
must be some reconsideration of the relationship between ideologies and human
agency, particularly in a eld like ELT, where the agency of teachers and learners is
a key consideration. CDS conceptualizations inspired by the Marxist tradition have
tended to emphasize the structural aspects of ideology, namely its role in legitimiz-
ing particular relations that characterize social structure, i.e. the status quo. With
this comes the danger of an overly static conceptualization of ideology, one in which
ideological belief systems are treated as simply being ‘out there’ for actors to inter-
nalize and replicate. Similarly to how static understandings of culture have the
effect of backgrounding the fact that culture consists of human action (Scollon
etal., 2012), static models of ideology carry the danger of understating the agency
that all ideologies mediate, whether such agency is directed at maintaining or
enforcing the status quo, or to challenging and subverting it. In Savski (2021), I
examined how the members of a Facebook group for migrant ELT practitioners in
Thailand related to hegemonic ideologies of race and native-speakerism. This
research highlighted how such ideologies were actively enforced (e.g. through
silencing of critique) and resisted (e.g. through demystication) by group members,
rather than simply being passively reproduced. This points to a need for a dynamic,
agentive understanding of ideology, one which sees such belief systems as continu-
ously shifting according to the specic contexts in which they are invoked, the types
6 Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT? Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
of actions they are upheld and challenged through, and the actors they are upheld
and challenged by.
To such an agentive understanding of ideology, a second dimension must be
added to fully deal with the reality of a globalized ELT eld, in which the exchange
of knowledge, people and other resources across the borders of traditional commu-
nities occurs with an intensity previously unimagined. This second dimension
acknowledges that, like other forms of knowledge, ideologies are also embedded in
such global cultural ows (Appadurai, 1990), which means that they, or their ele-
ments, may be appropriated in new contexts, by new actors, and through new
actions. Such a process of recontextualization, or “movement of various elements of
language and discourse across different social loci” (Krzyzanowski, 2016, p.314),
involves decontextualization – the rupture of conceptual bonds between a set of
ideological constructs and the particular set of social relations that characterize a
local context– and subsequently transformation– the generation of new conceptual
bonds and embedding into a new set of social relations (Bernstein, 1990). Through
these processes, individual ideological constructs can thus be signicantly trans-
formed according to the specic local conditions into which they are being embed-
ded, despite their continuing adherence to a seemingly static ideology. A good
example of this was offered by Forman (2014), who examined how the ideological
and pedagogical contents of a global ELT textbook series (Passages, published by
Cambridge), were recontextualized in Thai university classrooms. Forman described
how an input text describing an afuent consumer lifestyle imbued with Western
values was decontextualized in a classroom where most students had little suitable
experience to draw on while completing the activities, and how this disconnect, as
well as the teacher’s presentation, served to transform the textbook into a “foreign
artefact” (p.78).
It is this background of agency and recontextualization that a study of neoliberal
ideology in ELT must pay particular attention to, not only because neoliberalism is
the dominant economic ideology of the present but because many of its constructs
underpin and legitimate key processes of globalization. Namely, in addition to ide-
alizing a self-regulating economy in which individuals, rather than the state, are
carriers of responsibility both as consumers and producers (De Costa etal., 2019;
Klein, 2007; Ng, 2018), neoliberalism also places high value on the unimpeded ow
of people, knowledge, resources and products across traditional borders. In other
words, neoliberalism is the default ideology of the globalized world in that many of
the key tenets of a globalized society are legitimated by neoliberal constructs. In
ELT, such processes have become particularly intense with the circulation of global
textbooks, tests and policies, many underpinned by neoliberal thinking. Yet, such an
association is unlikely to be a simple affair, given that neoliberalism itself has
become subject to globalization, undergoing the processes of transformation
described above. Thus, while few contexts may now be declared untouched by neo-
liberalism, it can also be assumed that the ways in which neoliberal constructs are
engaged with inlocal contexts display signicant differences, as individual con-
structs of neoliberalism are detached from others and entered into new relationships
with local ideologies.
K. Savsk i
The Study
The study reported on in this chapter sought to examine the recontextualization
decontextualization and transformation– of neoliberal ideology from the perspective
of an ELT textbook series developed in Thailand, a nation in the Global South. The
approach taken to the analysis of textbooks intended for use in the language classroom
is thus not one interested primarily in their pedagogical dispositions, but rather one in
which such books are seen as ‘cultural artefacts’ (Gray, 2010b), by which I mean that
they are texts whose semiotic features (language, visuals, sounds) encode particular
socio-culturally determined meanings (Canale, 2016; Weninger & Kiss, 2013, 2015),
and which may also acquire new meanings in context as they are appropriated as
mediational means in service of particular social practices (Scollon, 2001). Much
analysis of the ideological dimensions of cultural contents in textbooks has taken the
form of quantitative content analyses focussed on identifying how many references to
particular cultures a given textbook includes (e.g. Rose & Galloway, 2019). Despite
its merits in promoting equity of representation, there are various potential shortcom-
ings of such a quantitative approach to ‘culture’, in particular the potential to frame
the analysis around a set of pre-existing, geographically dened ‘national cultures’,
thus potentially simplifying the meanings present in a particular text.
Acknowledging the need to take complexity of social representations in textbook
content into greater account, the study presented here drew on the toolkit of the
discourse-historical approach to critical discourse analysis (DHA, see Reisigl &
Wodak, 2015; Wodak etal., 2009) by focussing on the meaningfulness of particular
uses of semiotic resources (text, visuals) in the data. In the DHA, such an analysis
focuses on the semiotic ways that actors, objects, ideas, places or other units are
referred to (nomination), the actions and qualities that are attributed to them (predi-
cation), the claims made and the backing provided for them (argumentation), the
(in)directness of particular discursive actions (intensication/mitigation), and the
points of view reected in the discourse as a whole (perspectivization) (Reisigl &
Wodak, 2015). Through analysis of text and visuals, the researcher then begins to
identify patterns of how particular semiotic resources are used in service of particu-
lar, ideologically determined social goals (Wodak etal., 2009). In the case of this
study, this entailed a cyclical analysis of the data, moving through stages of identi-
fying patterns of how semiotic resources were used, identifying parallels and con-
trasts, and ultimately making links to overarching ideologies. Below, the results are
organized according to the themes that emerged at this nal stage, when particular
patterns were contextualized in light of broader ideologies.
The data used in this study consisted of three books in the Expanding Reading
Skills series, developed by Malinee Chandavimol, a now retired lecturer at
Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, one of the premiere higher education institu-
tions in Thailand. The seven books in this series are aligned to the Thai educational
system in the sense that each is intended to correspond to a particular level, ranging
from the rst level of junior high school to university. In this study, the rst three
books of the series, corresponding to grades 7-9 (junior high school), were exam-
ined (below: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3).
6 Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT? Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
Before presenting the results of the above analysis, the general observation that
should be made regarding all three analysed books in the Expanding Reading Skills
series is that much of their contents could not be seen as overtly mediating any
particular ideology. Many of the reading passages and other examples provided in
the books were in fact largely innocuous, consisting of, for instance, brief news
reports describing odd or unusual events (e.g. a dog making a long journey after
being forgotten in the cargo hold of an aircraft), brief descriptions of scientic dis-
coveries (e.g. dinosaur fossils), or even brief historical or ctional narratives (e.g.
the legend of King Arthur). The following sections do not touch upon such appar-
ently non- ideological content, though it can be remarked that the relative ‘triviality’
of such texts does reect an ideologically motivated pattern in contemporary ELT–
the general exclusion of meaningful content from the teaching process
(Pennycook, 1994).
Glocal Consumerism
Much of the content of Expanding Reading Skills that did appear to overtly mediate
ideological meaning was linked to neoliberalism, though the recontextualization of
neoliberal ideological constructs was largely selective, being linked exclusively to
references to consumer culture:
If we go to J.J.Market with even a little money, we can have fun1 looking for a cheap shirt
or watch. (Book 1, p.21)
After he earned a lot of money, he bought a Mercedes Benz. (Book 1, p.121)
Little children often get lost in big stores and supermarkets. (Book 2, p.115)
[…] When Malaysians go on holiday, they can put their pets in a luxurious new animal
hotel at Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia. Each animal has its own air-conditioned room.
Every day it can get exercise. […] (Book 3, p.76)
These extracts present examples of various instantiations of consumer culture in the
three books. The rst openly constructs a consumer subject position and invites the
reader to assume it through its use of pronouns (inclusive ‘we’), while the second
appears to glorify material wealth. The third sentence represents a common, less
overt strategy, where apparently innocent actors and actions are represented as
located in a consumer space– typically a shopping mall. The nal example is taken
from a longer reading passage, in contrast to the previous three, which were pre-
sented in isolation in vocabulary tasks, and shows how consumerist concepts could
1 Underlining indicates examples taken from tasks in which learners are asked to match empty gaps
in sentences with a list of provided words or phrases. To aid the readers of this chapter, I have
elected to present such examples along with the respective answers.
K. Savsk i
be inserted into an otherwise neutral text, with pets here represented as beneciaries
of their owners’ consumer lifestyle.
A feature of the neoliberal consumerism contained in the books was that it was
articulated from a local perspective, with reference to Thai social actors and Thai
social spaces. The following examples illustrate this, making reference to two well-
known consumer spaces in Thailand:
Bangkok’s Paragon Shopping Mall has a lot of space for walking around. (Book 3, p.81)
Dream World is a big amusement park near Bangkok. (Book 1, p.141)
Such references to local consumer culture are found throughout the books, and are
indicative of their orientation toward appealing to a local identity. Yet, it may be
observed that most such examples feature high-end consumer spaces found in
Bangkok, with little similar reference to any other part of the country. Indeed, other
examples make reference to an elite consumer lifestyle not accessible to many
young Thais, with actors being portrayed as partaking in activities such as eating
Western food (e.g. ‘We always have pizza delivered to our home for lunch on
Saturday by motorcycle.’ [Book 1, p.18]), travelling to other continents (‘My friend
ew to Australia on a Boeing 747.’ [Book 1, p.112]), or even living in Western-style
homes (images in Book 2, pp.13–16). The role of an imagined ‘West’ is particularly
key in this regard, since in Thailand the consumption of products associated with
this macro-culture is a marker of class distinction (Bourdieu, 1984) as such imported
goods are often inaccessible to those outside the local elite due to high prices. This
representation of Thai society, though aimed at making the books accessible to local
teachers and learners, are thus potentially problematic in that they offer subject
positions which many users in the local context are unlikely to be able to identify
with on the basis of their everyday life (an issue particularly associated with global
textbooks, see Forman, 2014).
These examples point to the broad relevance of particular neoliberal ideological
constructs to the discourse of Expanding Reading Skills. What is of particular inter-
est is the fact that neoliberalism is closely intertwined with local conceptualizations
of social class, highlighting the way that neoliberal ideology is easily and rapidly
integrated in existing inequalities when it comes into contact with new societies.
What must be pointed out, however, is that references to neoliberal ideological con-
structs consisted almost exclusively of representations of consumer culture, with
other aspects of neoliberal ideology receiving less attention. There was, for instance,
comparatively little reference to the workplace or to employment in general, with
only isolated examples espousing neoliberal values in this eld (e.g. the positive
valuation of self-improvement for the purpose of acquiring greater wealth in ‘If
someone is determined to improve, he or she can learn something and nd a good
job.’ [Book 2, p.163]). This is a signicant contrast from many global textbooks,
which make extensive reference to employment as a relevant context for communi-
cation in English, typically drawing on neoliberal ideological constructs in so doing
(Gray, 2010a).
6 Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT? Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
Local Moralizing Discourse
As discussed in the previous section, neoliberal ideology played a visible role in the
contents of the three Expanding Reading Skills books. However, itbecame clear
during the analysis that the discourse of these books was multi-dimensional, and
consisted of intertwined instantiations of several different ideologies. Neoliberalism
represented a prominent, but not supremely dominant element of this discourse,
with other ideologies characteristic of the local educational context playing an
equally visible part. I have elected to refer to these collectively as a ‘moralizing
discourse’ due to the observed tendency to present statements which explicitly or
implicitly described social mores. The following extracts exemplify this tendency:
You should not talk with food in your mouth. (Book 1, p.75)
He is good at all subjects. That is why he is the best student in the class. (Book 2, p.171)
Because of the way she helps people, everyone is always glad to see her. (Book 3, p.99)
These sentences illustrate the key characteristics of this ‘moralizing discourse’, as
they range from an explicit, normative statement in the rst example to more implicit
examples, consisting of descriptions of social behaviours (e.g. high educational
achievement, charity work) which are positioned as particularly desirable. These
can be seen as instances of a broader discourse which seeks to use the classroom as
a space for the explicit promotion of social values, in particular those related to
traditional conceptualizations of decency and morality (e.g. Howard, 2009). In a
parallel to how consumer culture was often localized to represent a Thai perspec-
tive, this ‘moralizing discourse’ was also typically presented with reference to local
points of reference. However, while this was primarily achieved through references
to Thai spaces and actors in the case of consumerism, the point of reference for
‘moralizing discourse’ was primarily national identity, as illustrated by the exam-
ples below:
Farmers in Thailand have an important job because rice is the main food for Thailand.
(Book 2, p.123)
Loy Krathong is one of our happy festivals in Thailand, when we oat lighted krathong
along the canals or the rivers. (Book 1, p.21)
One of the two sacred oxen at the recent Ploughing Ceremony received offerings includ-
ing maize, whiskey, beans, rice, grains, sesame seeds and water. The ox opted for beans and
grass. Royal astrologers predicted that there must be an abundant harvest this year. The
ceremony was held in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
(Book 3, p.11)
When Thai people celebrate His Majesty the King’s Birthday, there are always a lot of
reworks which explode with colourful lights and bangs. (Book 1, p.21)
These extracts show how, through the use of locally-developed materials, English
language teaching can be harnessed into the overarching agenda of promoting
national identity through the educational system, in spite of the fact that English, as
a perceived vehicle of globalization, is often positioned by nationalist rhetoric as a
threat to local identities and languages (e.g. Hult, 2017; Savski, 2020a). The rst
extract from Expanding Reading Skills shows how this can be done implicitly,
K. Savsk i
through the use of toponyms in the representation of social actors, since this estab-
lishes a nationalist frame for the discourse. The other examples are more explicit,
with references made to elements of Thai national culture that are particularly com-
monly referenced in public discourse, including ofcial festivals and ceremonies, as
well as the institution of the monarchy, a key symbol of the Thai nation-state and its
power. As the examples cited above, these are phrased as descriptions, yet hold
signicant normative power given their reference to social mores, backed up in this
case by a need for conformity with collective, national identity. The use of ‘we’ in
the second example is particularly key in this regard, since it invites the reader to
assume the subject position of a member of the in-group, and thus to accept the
social more being presented (i.e. participating in a festival activity).
Such explicit representations of in-group identity along national lines were also
complemented by copious reference to similarly bordered out-groups. Particularly
notable was an imagined ‘West’, represented both through explicit linguistic refer-
ences (‘In the West, many people think it is wrong to train animals to do tricks.
[Book 2, p.104]), more implicit allusions (e.g. to Western foods and products), as
well as multimodally, through the use of images (primarily drawings) depicting
Caucasian social actors. In the use of such generic, somewhat stereotyped refer-
ences, the books follow a pattern common in Thai public discourse, where a simple
association of Westernness and whiteness is typical (Kitiarsa, 2010; Winichakul,
1994). Elsewhere, the books also contained representations of Asianness (e.g. in a
text comparing how the powers of Japanese and US superhero characters reect
imagined East-West cultural differences), as well as a solitary representation of
Africanness (in a highly stereotyped set of drawings representing relations between
British colonial administrators and slaves in Africa). As was the case with the books’
focus on consumerism and avoidance of other areas of neoliberalism commonly
represented in global textbooks, the presence of such cultural stereotypes sets
Expanding Reading Skills apart from their international counterparts, which gener-
ally contain a more generic, transferrable set of cultural representations (Gray, 2010b).
Engagement withControversy
As described in the previous sections, both localized consumer culture and moral-
izing discourse played a key role in the discourse of the three Expanding Reading
Skills books examined as part of this study, presenting a signicant contrast from the
generic, decontextualized discourse of many global textbooks. A further point of
difference was the books’ occasional disregard for the linguistic and cultural norms
that characterize the discourse of contemporary global textbooks. As extensively
demonstrated by Gray (2010b), much of the present discourse of global textbooks
reects the need of their distributors, large corporations, to offer products which are
marketable across as broad an array of contexts as possible. This has led to the
gradual development of extensive author guidelines, texts which set discursive
boundaries for textbook creators by requiring, for instance, the balanced
6 Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT? Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
representation of different social groups and avoidance of stereotypes (particularly
with regard to gender or ethnicity). The books examined in this study appeared to
occasionally disregard such norms, as illustrated by the following examples:
Since she was so fat, they gave her the nickname of “MOO”. (Book 1, p.21)
Most big ships have a lot of sailors from poor countries because they will work for a low
salary. (Book 2, p.153)
In their inclusion of these sentences, the books may be accused of perpetuating
cultural stereotypes. In the rst example, the use of the Thai word ‘moo’ (หมู), mean-
ing ‘pig’, as a nickname for a female, appears to be a relatively clear example of
‘body shaming’, a pattern ubiquitous in Thai discourse about gender, where low
body fat is largely positioned as a necessary element of beauty (Phakdeephasook,
2009). The use of the somewhat determinist, potentially offensive term ‘poor coun-
tries’ in the second example, in contrast, illustrates how the books disregarded con-
temporary norms of inclusive language that global textbooks are also subject to.
A further area in which author guidelines regulate the discourse of modern ELT
textbook is in their prohibition of reference to particular culturally sensitive topics.
These ‘no-go’ issues generally eschewed by contemporary textbooks are generally
referred to with the acronym PARSNIP, referring to politics, alcohol, religion, sex,
narcotics, isms, and pork, all seen to be topics which hold the potential for diminish-
ing the acceptability and marketability of a textbook in particular contexts (Gray,
2010b). The three Thai books, seemingly less affected by this rigid discursive order,
did broach such sensitive topics in places:
Orestes Lorenzo was a pilot in the Cuban Air Force. He wanted to live in the US so he could
have more freedom. […] (Book 2, p.57)
A village in the south of Thailand was attacked by terrorists last month. (Book 3, p.142)
These examples illustrate the fact that the books did appear to represent potentially
contentious issues, thereby also voicing allegiance to a particular set of ideological
constructs. The rst extract, for instance, makes a connection between ‘freedom’
and life in the capitalist West by presenting a narrative about a Cuban pilot who
defected to the US along with his family, thus articulating a relatively clear geopo-
litical alignment. While this reference may be quite remote for many Thais, the
second example presents a much clearer reference to domestic political issues by
making reference to conicts in the Deep South of the country. Here, a broadly
nationalist position appears to be taken by simply labelling local separatists as ter-
rorists and making little reference to their points of view.
While such a willingness to broach potentially challenging topics did in some
cases appear to serve the promotion of particular ideological positions, the books
did also appear to make reference to such issues in an effort to represent the world
in a more diverse, authentic manner when compared to many global textbooks. This
was particularly evident in references to poverty and inequality, which appeared in
several places across all three books:
The family decided to go back to their village because there was no work in Bangkok.
(Book 1, p.153)
At some of the intersections in Bangkok, little boys beg for money. (Book 2, p.144)
K. Savsk i
Coal mines were once common in England and many miners were buried when the tun-
nels collapsed. (Book 3, p.134)
[…] Some people used to laugh at women who wanted to be air force pilots, but nowa-
days nobody thinks they are funny. (Book 2, p.119)
While the existence of precarity is referenced somewhat obliquely in the rst sen-
tence, the second and third are examples of bald-on-record references to the exis-
tence of poverty, both in Thailand (represented through the action of ‘begging’ and
associated with child actors) as well as elsewhere (here, the reference is made to
coal miners in England). These are notable cases of the books going directly against
the tendency of global ELT textbooks to represent a homogeneous society in which,
as argued by Gray and Block, everyone appears to belong to the middle class (2014).
The nal extract, a concluding sentence in a text about female military pilots, is a
further example of how such homogeneity was subverted in the books, since it
acknowledges the historical existence of opposition to women’s equality. Further
critical engagement with this topic is encouraged by pre-reading discussion ques-
tions in the same unit, which ask a question (“Should the Thai Royal Air Force have
women pilots?”) which may well be read is controversial in a context where a male-
dominated military continues to hold signicant social sway.
Discussion andConclusion
This focus of this chapter has been on examining the globalization of neoliberal
ideology from the perspective of an ELT textbook series developed in Thailand,
Expanding Reading Skills. In this regard, a key nding of the analysis is that this
globalization, as a form of recontextualization, involves decontextualization– the
rupturing of conceptual bonds between particular ideological constructs of neolib-
eralism. As evidenced by the analysis, the instantiations of neoliberalism in the
series were largely limited to consumer culture (through representations of con-
sumer subjects, actions and spaces), whereas other neoliberal constructs (e.g.
employment) were largely absent. While there are a variety of possible factors
underlying this absence (e.g. the fact that, irrespective of neoliberal rhetoric about
the free market, both the state and various informal power networks continue to
exert economic power in many sectors of the Thai economy), a likely explanation is
that consumerism has now become a de facto global culture to the extent that it has
become a source of ‘safe’ common ground for participants in English language
teaching and learning, compensating for differences that may otherwise exist as a
result of individuals’ different backgrounds, whether these relate to ideology, social
class, religion, rst language, or other kinds of contrasts. This status of consumer-
ism as a conceptual lingua franca of ELT appears evident when considering how its
elements have come to determine ELT textbooks as a genre, whether global (Gray,
2010a, b) or local (Jalalian Daghigh & Abdul Rahim, 2021), and is also highlighted
by the analysis of Expanding Reading Skills presented above.
6 Consumerism asLingua Franca inELT? Ideologies inaThai Textbook Series
What these ndings also suggest is that consumerism, while acting as a neutral
ground, also offers scope for the transformation of neoliberal ideology through the
creation of new conceptual links. As evidenced by the above examples, it was in the
representations of ‘Thai’ consumer subjects, actions and spaces that a key connec-
tion was created between global neoliberalism and local culture. Rather than pre-
senting generic cultural representations akin to global textbooks, Expanding
Reading Skills anchors consumer culture into the Thai context by making specic
references to local culture (people, spaces). In this way, a link was established
between consumer culture and the neoliberal ideological constructs underlying it,
and the other clear ideological inuence on the book, moralizing discourse driven in
particular by nationalism. Such an interplay between neoliberalism and national-
ism, while appearing at odds given the contrasts between these ideologies, in par-
ticular between the stress neoliberalism places on breaking down the strict borders
between traditional communities that nationalism imposes, is not unusual in the
Thai context. It has, for instance, been observed in language policy, where the focus
on Thai as the unifying national language, complemented by the prioritisation of
society-wide acquisition of English, has had the overall effect of excluding other
languages from the educational system (Savski, 2020b, in press; Widiawati &
Savski, in press).
The power of consumerism as a lingua franca of ELT materials is also evident in
the way its prominence tends to accompany the exclusion of resources with the
potential to foster deeper engagement with particular topics in the English class-
room. As was remarked by Pennycook (1994), the rise of communicative language
teaching has seen a rapid trivialization of the teaching-learning process, an orienta-
tion whose lack of interest in engagement with substantial, potentially controversial
topics is particularly evident in the regulated, sanitized discourse of contemporary
ELT textbooks (Gray, 2010b). In this regard, Expanding Readings Skills appears to
stand at the threshold of triviality, often presenting texts which provide little of the
kind of ‘new’ knowledge that may stimulate genuine exchange of information or
opinions, but occasionally also making efforts to represent a more complex, plural-
ist society, and offering users the opportunity to engage with more challenging top-
ics (e.g. gender discrimination, social inequality). As modest as these windows may
be, their presence and their embeddedness into issues relevant to the local context
does offer a convincing argument for why the development of local ELT materials
should continue to be seen as a worthwhile endeavour. However, it is also clear that
this needs to be coupled with an overall broadening of the scope of ELT, in which
language prociency targets are situated within a programme for the development
of learners’ cultural competences, such as critical literacy (Weninger, 2019). As part
of such a refocus, textbooks must become more holistic resources for teachers and
learners, serving not only as catalogues of language-related knowledge but also as
springboards for the critical investigation of social contexts.
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Kristof Savski is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai,
Thailand, and previously studied and taught part-time at Lancaster University, UK. His research
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K. Savsk i
... In a study comparing Malaysian locally developed ELT textbooks against ELT textbooks developed by Western-based international publishers and used in Malaysia, Daghigh and Abdul Rahim (2021) found that although more neoliberal values appear in the latter, they are still considerably present in the locally developed textbooks. Similarly, Daghigh, Jan, and Kaur (2022a), Savski (2022) and Su (2022) and found positive portrayals of consumerist discourse in Malaysian, Taiwanese and Thai locally developed textbooks respectively. Canh (2022) found that Vietnamese ELT textbooks were dominated by test-type activities, which are influenced by neoliberal discourse pertaining to standardisation. ...
Studies on the discourse of neoliberalism in English language textbooks (ELT) concur that neoliberalism originated from the west: thus, its values are imported into the rest of the world through the textbooks produced by western global ELT producers. Instead, the current study shows that neoliberalism is not necessarily an entirely foreign concept in the non-western context and, in particular, in Malaysia, but is already present amongst the non-western local populace where the realities of the local society are subject to development, and this is reflected in the textbooks. Scrutinised through tools borrowed from the Discourse Historical Approach-an approach to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)-this study contributes to the current body of literature by comparing two series of ELT textbooks, locally developed during the pre-and post-neoliberal eras in Malaysia, for their neoliberal content. The findings reveal that that these textbooks have evolved to solely picture the middle-class neoliberal subjects who go through a process of skillisation who have tendencies towards the neoliberal products and behaviours in recent years, influenced by the socio-political developments as opposed to the older books. ARTICLE HISTORY
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While there is a growing body of scholarship on the neoliberal content of global English textbooks, the ways in which these commercial materials come to life in teaching and learning practices are still under researched. Drawing on a critical ethnographic account of two English courses for unemployed students in a private language school in Serbia, this paper examines the beliefs and actions of teachers and students in regard to English language education and the global textbooks they use. The results suggest that many views about the English language courses and their textbooks in this case study are deeply shaped by the broader socioeconomic context of neoliberalism. Furthermore, the neoliberalism featured in the textbook motivates students to learn English and to transform themselves into suitable citizens and workers for the current economic order. In this way, the global textbook becomes one of the many tools that neoliberalism uses to reproduce itself. This paper argues that the present state of affairs is not an inevitable and desirable one and calls for implementing alternative approaches to the dominant neoliberal conception of English language education.
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Since its publication in 2001, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) has become a highly influential means of describing language proficiency. Its spread has, however, been marked by contradictions, since the frame-work has been appropriated in the service of a variety of different policy agendas. In this paper, I argue that such contradictions are indicative of broader ideological contrasts, which may impact how the framework is implemented at the local scale. By drawing on critical discourse analysis and conceptual history, I analyse a set of recent language policy texts from Thailand and Malaysia, two Asian contexts where CEFR has recently been introduced, to examine how such global ideological strug-gles connect with local agendas. I find that CEFR has in these multilingual contexts been embedded into a bilingual policy agenda which foregrounds the national lan-guage (Thai or Bahasa Malaysia) and English while backgrounding other languages. This means that CEFR was detached from the agenda of the Council of Europe, with the recontextualization of CEFR shown to have been a selective process in which the only part to be consistently transferred were the CEFR levels, which were in this decontextualised form presented as a transnational standard. I argue that these patterns are indicative of a struggle between the global agenda of ELT and its roots in the ideology of neoliberalism, that underlies much of the worldwide spread of CEFR, and a local nationalist agenda attempting to appropriate the framework for its own purposes.
Neoliberal ideologies, evidenced in locally developed and internationally published imported English Language Teaching (ELT) textbooks, are compared in the context of Malaysia, an outer circle country. Historically, locally developed ELT textbooks have been used to teach English but recently imported books have been prescribed following the adoption of the Common European Framework Reference (CEFR). This move has met with criticisms from many who are concerned with the culture and ideologies reproduced in imported texts. The current study addresses this concern through the thematic content analysis of locally developed and imported textbooks used in Malaysian classrooms. It is found that the neoliberal values demonstrated in imported textbooks outweigh those in locally published ones. This necessitates a critical reading of imported ELT textbooks by local educational authorities before they are prescribed for use. This is particularly important in outer- and expanding-circle countries where local cultural values and beliefs may be different from the Western, neoliberal values reproduced in imported materials.