Cultural Globalization and Language Education

B. Kumaravadivelu. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Pp. xiii + 272.

Reviewed by Gregory P. Glasgow
Teachers College, Columbia University
Tokyo, Japan

Today, language educators and policymakers struggle to ensure that language education programs are truly reflective of an increasingly globalized world. This proves to be no easy feat as institutional and personal presuppositions about culture and language education may preclude an objective, balanced treatment of this topic. In Cultural globalization and language education, Kumaravadivelu, reaching an wide audience of academics and laypersons alike, skillfully provides the reader with a broad overview of language and culture education and encourages broader cultural awareness in the language classroom.
In chapter 1, The Lay of the Land, Kumaravadivelu describes his bicultural background, as he experienced cultural variety sometimes with ease and sometimes with unease (p. 5). The next chapter, Culture and its Complexities, contends that even scholarly representations of culture often reflect overgeneralized, stereotyped, and otherized representations (p. 18) which adversely affect language educational quality. In the following chapter, Cultural Globalization and its Processes, Kumaravadivelu explores globalization, acknowledging its status as a hotly debated, multidimensional concept (p. 31). At this stage, Kumaravadivelu spans globalization s history and asserts that few language programs develop a global cultural consciousness in the learner (p. 46). This pivotal statement in chapter 3 sets the tone for Kumaravadivelu s discussions in later chapters about culture as well as pedagogic approaches towards culture and language
In chapters 4 through 7, Cultural Stereotype and its Perils, Cultural Assimilation and its Demands, Cultural Pluralism and its Deceptions, and Cultural Hybridity and its Discontents, several dimensions of culture are explored. In chapter 4, Kumaravadivelu discusses the tendencies of stereotyping the Asian learner, stressing that these views have a stubborn quality to persist (p. 53). He mentions tendencies in cultural assimilation in chapter 5 to reflect a melting pot concept; however, he concedes that ethnic affiliation prevails. Chapter 6 contends that cultures can co-exist in a pluralist fashion. According to Kumaravadivelu, various studies of EFL and ESL contexts state that learners seek richer, multinational materials and that educators must be wary of tendencies to essentialize culture. Finally, chapter 7 deals with the cultural hybridity concept about how a culture can promote dynamism and multiple identities, a phenomenon common in global cities such as New York and London where cosmopolitanism is prevalent. However, Kumaravadivelu laments that very few studies have explored how discursive hybridity can actually transform and enhance teaching-learning interactions in classrooms (p. 138).
In chapter 8, Cultural Realism and its Demands, Kumaravadivelu stresses that we must give the individual the agency toward cultural transformation (p. 166). The pedagogical principles and instructional strategies then mentioned in chapters 9 and 10 assert that culture in language education transcends that of the target language community and thus focus on a cluster of communities. Through this, the learner will engage with the target cultures to create associations and linkages (p. 177) and, through specific instructional activities, achieve the target global consciousness desired. Chapter 11 compares traditional approaches to intercultural education and poststructural approaches, calling for a new framework that connects intercultural communication and cultural globalization. Finally, Kumaradvaivelu powerfully concludes that the map is not the territory (p. 222); drawing from the analogy of the controversy over the Eurocentric Mercator map, language education needs to truly reflect culture as it is in the world and take culture in language education a step further, promoting a willingness to learn from cultures.
Despite the book s rich content, Kumaradivelu s proposal that culture in language education should focus on a cluster of cultural communities (p. 174) does not necessarily discuss from a policy perspective the top-down support needed in certain countries which tend to resort to economically and politically influenced decisions on how language and culture is dealt with in the classroom. He does, however, make a valid point that language teachers face distinct challenges and opportunities to help learners construct their cultural identity (p. 175); for, as Canagarajah (2005) reports and Dogancay-Aktuna (2007) supports true global cultural consciousness will be perpetuated by culturally informed and progressive teaching practices, suggesting that teachers take the initiative to incorporate a more ground-up approach that is relevant to the local community (Canagarajah, 2005, p. xxvii). Yet, teachers will need to critically appraise their social roles and responsibilities, hopefully encouraging socioculturally and politically contextualized pedagogical decisions (Dogancay-Aktuna, 2007), to take responsibility for developing a deeper cultural consciousness in their learners.
This consideration notwithstanding, the book is well worth reading in that it welcomes a globally conscious element in language education in a thoughtful and reasoned tone. As Kumarvadivelu eloquently states, it is learning from other cultures that will lead to cultural liberty (p. 237).

Canagarajah, A. (2005). Introduction. In A. Canagarajah (Ed). Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice (pp. xiii-xxx). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Dogancay-Aktuna, S. (2007). Expanding the socio-cultural knowledge base of TESOL teacher education. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19, 278-295.