Masked Pedagogy: Negotiating self, topic and expertise in conversation-for-learning

Nao, Marion (2009). Masked Pedagogy: Negotiating self, topic and expertise in conversation-for-learning. PhD thesis Cardiff University.



The research examines interaction between unacquainted teachers and students of English as a foreign language in the conversation lounge of a private university in Japan. It draws its primary data from an assigned task in which students were asked to make conversation with on-duty teachers. Such institutionalized conversation practice, or ‘conversation-for-leaming’ (Kasper 2004), is problematized in the thesis of research, as it is taken to paradoxically blend elements of institutionality with the interpersonal goals of conversation making. Focussing on the role of the teacher, the research aims to illustrate the way in which such tensions are resolved at the level of self construction in the supposedly conversational event.

In the Japanese context of English language learning, the ‘native speaking’ teacher may often be portrayed as the authentic embodiment of an Anglophone culture. It is here argued that the problematics of such ‘authenticity’ are compounded by the staged normativity of conversation-for-leaming, in which the teachers appear to be ‘playing’ themselves to a heightened degree of reflexivity. The self is thus seen to be interactionally emergent in a dialectic of conversationality and institutionality.

In the current setting of the research, the ‘English-only’ policy and official recommendation that students pre-select a topic of interaction prior to approaching a teacher present two significant elements of institutionality which are explored through discourse analysis. The participants’ negotiation of topic and expertise further provides an interactional means of analyzing the interpersonal and intercultural facets of self construction in the first-time educational encounters. In addition, the research draws on ethnographic methods of data generation, as it seeks to qualitatively ground the interactional events in the voiced experience of the participants. The thesis concludes with some suggestions which may help both teachers and students to overcome the challenges of non-acquaintanceship and constraints of institutionality to the pursuit of conversation-for-leaming.

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