English as a subject

Authored by: Viv Ellis

The Routledge Companion to English Studies

Print publication date:  March  2014
Online publication date:  March  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415676182
eBook ISBN: 9781315852515
Adobe ISBN: 9781317918929


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This chapter examines two contrasting stories about the school and university subjects of English, with a particular focus on how language figures in accounts of their development, in the evidence we have of their pedagogical practices, and in the relationship between language and literature in the construction of the subject. In nominally anglophone countries, the position of language and language study in the subject of English has always been problematic and contested and this issue alone has given rise to numerous debates that have ranged from intellectual turf wars to full-blown crises of disciplinarity (e.g. Spivak 2003). Indeed, the histories of English (wherever it is practised) are so riven with contradictory emphases, methodologies and divergent ideological commitments that any attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the multiplicity of accounts would require an ambitious historiographical project. Within the scope of a short chapter such as this one, a much narrower focus is essential, so the discussion will be organized around an examination of two of the most powerful, contrasting, even contradictory stories: English as an instrument of colonial and class domination and English as a socially progressive project. In the course of the discussion, it will become apparent that, far from being mutually exclusive, both capture some of the historical problems driving this particular curriculum formation and both demonstrate that the need to tell such stories refers us to the specific social and material circumstances in which they are told (see also Chapter 2). This chapter, then, will approach English as a subject in terms of the concepts of domination and development.

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