I read the abstract of a recently published article posted to the BALEAP discussion list, which contained the sentence: ‘Although EAP has traditionally been blind to knowledge, focusing instead on language and skills development (Monbec, 2018), EAP courses are well placed to make explicit to students legitimated language practice AND legitimated knowledge practice.’ It made my blood boil – always a good trigger for a blog post.
It is an example of an argument that was traditionally – i.e. in the dark ages before enlightenment – called ‘strawman’, I guess now called strawperson. In this type of argument, the writer sets up a spurious claim, ‘EAP focuses on language and skills development’, weakly supported (Monbec, 2018 – who?) in order to knock it over with their own superior position. This same strawperson argument was levelled at EAP as an ‘academic socialisation’ model in the early days of Academic Literacies (Lea and Street, 1998). It was critiqued by Wingate & Tribble (2012), who noted that criticisms of EAP refer to ‘practices which might still have been in place at the time of the authors’ seminal publication (1998) [but] do not take into account Genre/EAP’s founding principles, recent literature and innovation in current instructional practice’ (p.488). I would suggest that the writer cited above is guilty of exactly the same thing as Lea and Street in 1998.
So the first thing to do is find the Monbec 2018 article to find out who this researcher is and whether the writer quoted above has cited them accurately or is guilty of massaging their claims to make a stronger strawperson argument. Monbec turns out to be based in Singapore and this may be the context which has formed her understanding of EAP. She is a proponent of the new kid on the block, Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), and is in fact a co-author of another paper with the writer cited above. Now I’m not objecting to the content of these articles. Indeed, I enthusiastically endorse LCT for bringing new insights to the practice of EAP; but I am objecting to the positioning of EAP in a general and negative way in opposition to the new shining light of LCT. A writer with a more confident academic voice would not need to do this.
A quick surf across the Monbec (2018) article shows that her claims are much more hedged than the citation above would suggest. She argues for the disciplinary, i.e. context-specific, nature of knowledge as set out in LCT but then fails to give any kind of context to her claims about the nature of EAP courses and curricula. She refers to ‘many EAP courses’ with no indication in which contexts these are delivered; she notes ‘attempts in various locations to strengthen epistemic relations in both curriculum design and in teacher training’ without noting which locations. She argues that ‘lack of focus on a functional knowledge about language in some EAP curricula constitutes a form of knowledge-blindness’. Her EAP references are all at least 10 – 20 years old although her LCT references are bang up to date. She also gets the name of the BALEAP TEAP Competency Framework wrong and does not include it in her references list. So it would be legitimate to suggest that she is herself suffering from a form of knowledge blindness about EAP.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this for me is that I doubt whether these or other writers currently pushing LCT will actually contribute to EAP practice in any meaningful way by publishing teacher handbooks and teaching materials that show (rather than tell) ordinary EAP teachers how LCT might inform their classroom practice. It is really hard to convert research into pedagogy and make it accessible to teachers who do not share your understanding of the nature of EAP and how it could be taught. But I don’t see how the field moves on unless theorists stop telling EAP practitioners that they have a hostility to theory and a dysfunctional relationship with it (Ding & Bruce, 2017:151, cited in Monbec, 2018) and start showing them what theory looks like in practice.
Monbec, L. (2018) Designing an EAP curriculum for transfer: A focus on knowledge. Journal of Academic Language & Learning, 12/2, A88-A101.
Wingate, U. & Tribble, C. (2012) The best of both worlds? Towards an English for Academic Purposes/Academic Literacies writing pedagogy, Studies in Higher Education, 37/4, 481-495.