Critical Ethnography in S/FL Education Research: Sorting Out Purposes, Theoretical Underpinnings, and Implications

Lehner, Al
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Ethnographic studies in S/FL education research have graduaily increased in number in recent years, focusing attention on the personally-situated, sociocultural and political aspects of language teaching/leaming. More and more, research that relies upon ethnographic techniques has been considered both valuable and necessary in addressing a wide array of S/FL issues that other research methodologies have not appropriately or effectively grasped, e.g., recognizing the impact of home-school relationships on learning (Heath, 1983), eliciting learner perceptions about classroom practices (Canagarajah, 1993), assessing the use of particular peagogical techniques in S/FL classrooms (Fiore and Elsasser, 1987), identifying literacy needs within SL (Auerbach, 1993a) and FL (Street, 1993) contexts, and analyzing issues of power in teacher-leamer relationships (Peterson, 1991). Much of this research has been identified as critical ethnography. Yet some would argue that ethnographic research is not yet sufficiently understood within the field of s/FL education (Davis, 1995) and that critical ethnography as a research method has not been adequately explained. I want to explicate the purposes and theoretical underpinnings of critical ethnography and to present examples of critical studies that can inform those of us in S/FL education. I also am suggesting several implications for S/FL education. It is my hope that this paper can help to inform current perceptions about, critical ethnography that may have arisen from misleading ideas about its purposes and methodologies.
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