It’s interesting these days to see how experiences interlock with one another. I recently published a blog-post on the importance of “love” – based on the importance of everyone trying to cultivate a mindful awareness of one’s surroundings and thereby becoming more adaptive as people. Through this process we could become more aware of the continuities linking different cultures. The blog-post can be accessed at http://laurenceraw.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/binarisms-adaptation-and-love.html.
Only a week after I had published this post, I read an assessment by Don Randall of Bilkent University on English Studies in Turkey (http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ari/summary/v046/46.1-2.randall.html). Published in January 2015, the article examines current standards of research and teaching while offering an idiosyncratic solution to these “problems” through the introduction of more foreign-trained local academics into the system.
My initial reaction was an indignant one: the article contains so many errors of fact and misinterpreted ideas that I wondered precisely how it could have passed the peer review process and appeared in the journal. I do not want to go into too much detail, but perhaps one or two examples might suffice:
a) Randall claims that English teaching “tends to take shape quite unproductively as the practice of translation.” The main issue concerning ELT has little or nothing to do with “translation,” but rather focuses on a preoccupation with grammar at the expense of speaking. Most learners graduate from high schools with a limited knowledge of the way English works, but lacking either the confidence or the competence to communicate in the second language. Yasemin Kırkgöz’s article, appearing in the RELC Journal (2007) published by Sage, examines this issue in detail.
b) The author seems to be under the impression that English Studies came to the Republic of Turkey as a quasi-colonialist project akin to that described in 1815 by Thomas Babington Macaulay when referring to a similar project in British India. In fact English Studies was part of a project introduced in the mid-twentieth century by the Ministry of Education as a means of implementing Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s policies of westernization allied to developing local cultures. Scholars were certainly encouraged to follow western models, but use them as a basis for constructing their own culture-specific theoretical and methodological approaches. I published an article on this issue as long ago as 1999 (https://www.academia.edu/395850/Reconstructing_Englishness_1999_)
c) Randall goes on to claim that English departments in Turkey embrace “an extraordinarily deep and intimate unity of British literature and culture” in their curricula. This claim surprises me: one of principal methodological aims of most literature departments, especially those with a cultural studies component, has been to problematize the notion of “Britishness” not only by looking at constructions of multiculturalism, but by looking at the whole idea of “culture” and its implications from a cross-cultural perspective. I explored this issue in a recent presentation based on my own pedagogy http://www.slideshare.net/laurenceraw/intercultural-communication-some-ideas.
d) Drawing on the work of Spivak, Randall recommends that English Studies should move away from a purely text-based approach and favor instead the “socially transformative values” produced by an “aesthetic education.” While embracing the idea of “transformation,” it should come about through collaboration between educators and learners, not through the imposition of critical precepts formulated in the west. To rely purely on Spivak’s precepts represents a contemporary form of colonialism – in other words, the imposition of western-formulated notions in a nonwestern culture. The ghost of Macaulay haunts Randall’s arguments.
e) Lastly Randall quotes the example of his institution hiring a western-trained Turkish academic as a possible solution to the “problem” of English Studies. This strategy has been pursued, to my knowledge at least, for the past seven decades: many of the best scholars in English Departments past and present have received their education abroad. Moreover, it is not always the case that the best scholars need this form of education: Professor Talât Halman (1931-2014), one of the best-known translators, teachers and cultural ambassadors in the Republic’s history, never even studied for a PhD.
As I read Randall’s article for the second or the third time, my emotions changed; I was no longer angry but profoundly sad, not just for the fact that such an article could have appeared in print, but because it revealed the shortcomings of “adaptation” as a process. This has nothing to do with research issues, and everything to do with cultural and psychological adjustment. Where is the empathy? Where is the willingness to listen to and embrace other people’s arguments? Where is the love of one’s fellow human beings?
At a time of political and cultural upheaval, the article leaves me with a profound feeling of depression. If my learners or colleagues read this article, they might be rendered equally depressed; is that what representatives of “the west” (understood as a political and social entity) think of our efforts? I am still left with the difficult task of proving the value of adaptation as a cultural and psychological process (that we are never the same people today as we were yesterday, or will be tomorrow) as well as trying to sustain communities of purpose dedicated to literature – not as a subject for “aesthetic education” but as a means of discovering something about ourselves and the way we respond so differently to the world around us.
The only way to overcome such reversals as this is to follow the advice of Winston Churchill – KBO (Keep Buggering On). Do what you believe in to the best of your abilities.
28 Mar. 2016