Dr. Nathanael Rudolph




Nathanael Rudolph is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Mukogawa Women’s University in Nishinomiya, Japan. His research interests include postmodern and poststructural approaches to language, culture and identity, equity in the field of English language teaching, and the contextualization and teaching of English as an international language. He is the current co-editor of the TESOL NNEST Interest Section Newsletter.

  1. Thank you very much for joining us on the NNEST Blog, Nathanael. To start, could you tell us a bit about your educational and professional background, and how you got interested in language learning and NNEST issues?

Thank you for the invitation… I am very honored! In answering this first question, in order to make a long, winding story short, I will begin with a key period of personal and professional transformation I experienced. After completing an undergraduate degree in international affairs and a master’s in Latin American history (with intermittent chapters of studying abroad in Mexico), my wife and I moved to Japan, where we began teaching. My plan was to do a PhD in Latin American history. We had chosen Japan as my youth had been very positively influenced by people and things connected to the country. Ironically, while my interests relating to Latin America were oriented towards deconstructing power, privilege and marginalization, I had taken a job in Japan exploiting my “native speakerness” (in an English conversation school), though at the time, I hadn’t comprehended what that entailed. After arriving at feeling very unqualified for what I was teaching at the university level and after contemplating the future, I completed a master’s in TESOL in Japan, and then decided to pursue doctoral studies in TESOL back in the United States, as I really desired to grow as a professional, in the interest of serving my students and potentially having more influence in my workplace. At the time, I was interested in constructivism and connected speech.

In 2008, I entered the University of Maryland’s PhD in Education program, with a concentration in Second Language Education and Culture. There, I met Ali Fuad Selvi, Rashi Jain, and Bedrettin Yazan. I listened to them talk about equity and ELT, and about their lived experiences negotiating identity as professionals. Additionally, I took a very powerful course outside my department called (as I remember) “transcultural education,” which introduced postmodern and poststructural approaches to identity to me. In and through these experiences, I experienced a fast and very furious professional paradigm shift. As I began to see “beyond the Native Speaker (NS),” critically and practically speaking, I wrestled (and continue to wrestle) with my own personal and professional identity. I then moved back to Japan to work and complete my dissertation.

As documented in my dissertation, when I first attempted to apprehend identity and experiences of privilege and marginalization, I drew upon the dominant critically-oriented conceptual lens in the literature: that of binaries of being and becoming that situate “NEST” and “NNEST” experiences within essentialized and largely uniform categories of identity. The problem was, however, that this lens failed to capture the complexity of what my participants were saying, as they were describing their concomitant negotiation of Japaneseness and English ownership, use and instruction. This feeling was compounded by what I was hearing and experiencing in response to my participation in conferences, interactions with colleagues, and by my own negotiation of identity. I e-mailed two professors on my dissertation committee (who were outside my area of study), and asking them what to do, as I felt something just wasn’t right. They both wrote back with similar advice. One professor, Barbara Finkelstein, said the following: “If you view the NS construct strictly as as a fixed regime of truth, rather than a potentially evolving way of thinking about the field, then your narrators can make no contribution to it at all. In other words, you are essentializing the issues embedded in practitioner thinking in a pre-existing picture, and run the risk of stripping their agency out of it.” That shook my approach to inquiry to the core, and confirmed what I had been feeling. These collective experiences, together with my ongoing negotiation of identity, have shaped my interest in and the lens through which I approach issues of identity and equity, with particular focus on the context (Asia; Japan) where I am still living and working.

2. Much of your recent work has approached the NNEST experience from the lens of glocal interaction — that global trends affect and are affected by local practices and interactions. How did you get interested in the glocal lens and what are some of its applications to ELT and the NNEST Movement?

When I use the term “glocal,” I am drawing upon postmodern and poststructural work by scholars including Appadurai (2000), who argue that the “local” and “global” are fluidly intertwined, and the world is characterized by movement and hybridity. I am also drawing upon work by individuals including Bhabha (1996), that contends people and groups create, co-opt, and perpetuate local and global discourses of being and becoming, in order to construct linguistic, cultural, ethnic, national, economic, religious, academic, professional, and gender-related borders in communities, for the sake of power. This leads to the establishment of essentialized[1] borders seeking to define “inside-outside,” and “Us-Them.” Additionally, such work posits that individuals negotiate identity at the interstices of discourses of identity (dominant and otherwise), and in doing so, may maintain, or challenge and cross, borders.

What does this mean for ELT? First, I would argue that “English” is something that is in motion, to which the ever-evolving diversity of Englishes and users testifies. This points us to the need to move beyond NS-centric, one-size-fits-all approaches to ELT, and towards contextualized practice, in order to equip learners for interaction with a wide variety of people from a host of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and national backgrounds. Furthermore, as Kubota (2013) asserts, we might do well to be wary of equating “ELT” with “education for glocal interaction.” Instead, preparation for glocal interaction may be characterized as attending to the dynamic “complex (ity) of movement and exchange within and across borders, in an ever-increasingly interconnected world” (Selvi & Rudolph, forthcoming). Work in this conceptual vein contends for approaches to teacher education and classroom practice that value and draw upon teacher and learner negotiations of identity in and across borders of being and doing.

Yet, through an essentialized lens, “English” is something very different. There is “correct-incorrect,” “normal-abnormal,” “owner-not owner,” “NS-non-native speaker (NNS)” and “NEST-NNEST,” which are imagined as binary opposites of each other. Conceptually, postmodern and poststructural work generally views these dichotomies as contextually and glocally constructed. Thus, the “idealized NS,” “NS-ism,” and the “NS fallacy” are constructs pertaining to the establishment and perpetuation of linguistic and cultural authority relating to the ownership, use and instruction of English, and the bounds of community membership and corresponding authority in each particular context.

For those of us problematizing the NS construct, NS-ism and the NS fallacy, both critically and in the interest of contextualizing practice, I believe we must first recognize that what we are challenging manifests differently in and across communities and societies. “Moving beyond the idealized NS” must therefore be attended to contextually. In addition, there is a need to acknowledge diversity of identity and experience within and across categories of being and becoming, and that privilege and marginalization may be fluid. This challenges the critical use of essentialized categories of identity and experience, as they may oversimplify, discount, ignore, or even demonize learner, user and instructor accounts of the negotiation of identity.

3. Your publication “Conceptualizing and confronting inequity: Approaches within and new directions for the ‘NNEST Movement’” with Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan explores postmodern and poststructuralist approaches to identity. This complicates the dichotomies that previously framed the NNEST movement and much of ELT. How do you think these dichotomies arose and how do you think the field will change as they become increasingly problematized?

These are very complex questions that relate to how people fundamentally apprehend “self,” “identity,” and “experience,” and, as a result, “privilege” and “marginalization,” and “agency.” I believe that fundamentally, the dichotomous approach to identity, critical and otherwise, is grounded in essentialized, Modernist tradition, wherein we attempt to define clear boundaries between “Self” and “Other.” This involves the actualized belief that there is a fundamental difference, and therefore a divide, between between NSs/NNSs and NESTs/NNESTs. Working directly from these assumptions, some critically-oriented scholars have explicitly argued for seeing the “bright side” of being a NNEST, which (very positively) includes their multilingualism and experience learning English as an additional language. This is largely contrasted against an idealized monolingual NS. Further work has contended that NESTs and NNESTs may complement each other professionally, as each possesses strengths and weaknesses according to their categorical affiliations, though they cannot and/or should not attempt to fulfill each other’s roles. Other work, has attempted to problematize the NS/NNS and NEST/NNEST dichotomies, and even acknowledges diversity within and across borders of identity, yet, as Moussu and Llurda (2008) point out, retains the critically-oriented binary lens in apprehending and approaching identity and inequity for, what I imagine, are many varied, yet conflicting reasons.

All such work, I believe, has contributed to problematizing NS-centric approaches to ELT, and to the reconceptualization of language ownership, use and instruction as our diverse world critically and practically demands. I would argue, however, that as we allow increased conceptual and discursive space for individuals’ accounts of negotiating identity, we will be better equipped to address the complexity of contextualized manifestations of privilege and marginalization, in the interest of moving beyond essentialized discourses with (and beyond) ELT in each given context, critically and pedagogically speaking.

 4. When you were working on your dissertation, what strategies did you use to encourage teachers to participate in your study? What advice would you give to doctoral students recruiting participants?

In my study, I used narrative inquiry grounded in postmodern and poststructural theory. This meant, among other things, that I co-constructed my interviews with my participants, while constantly attending to my positionality, reflecting on how I was “inserted in grids of power relations and how that influences methods, interpretations, and knowledge production” (Sultana, 2007, p. 376). This included, for me, revealing my “subjectivities” to my participants, regarding my personal and professional background and interests, as they related to the research my participants and I were involved in. All this required building relationships of trust with my participants. Many of the things they said regarding their negotiations of translinguistic and transcultural identity threatened the linguistic, cultural and academic authority of individuals they interacted with, in and beyond their respective workplaces. In building trust, I found that what most appealed to my participants, was their opportunity for voice, which fluidly related to their negotiations of Japaneseness and professional identity as researchers, instructors, and ultimately users of English. I believe that doctoral students would be better effective in recruiting participants, by being attentive to relationship and trust-building, as well as to affording their participants space for voice.

 5. Many of our readers have encountered instances of ‘native speakerism’ either against them or others. Are there ways of resisting this bias and discrimination that you’ve found to be particularly effective?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that attending to “NS-ism” as a glocal construct is very important, as it contextualizes the problematization and addressing of privilege and marginalization, and allows learners, users and instructors of all backgrounds to contribute to and be shaped by the critical dialogue. I also think it is important to practice critical pragmatism (Pennycook, 1997) when addressing inequity: seeking transformative change, while recognizing the parameters that have been placed around identity and education (for instance) by stakeholders in each ELT context. I often draw on examples such as, “What is Japanese food?,” to allow students to explore essentialized ideas of Japaneseness and Otherness, and how those borders are challenged by historical movement, exchange and hybridization. This is potentially a “safe” topic, that can then be used to talk about diversity, with relation to Englishes and English users, as well as regarding the many diverse ways people construct Japaneseness. I have found that “telling” stakeholders “how things are” is rather ineffective, and does not allow them discursive space for, and therefore ownership of,   apprehending their own positionality, and that of others. Also, though I believe the “critical” and “practical” are inseparably intertwined, I have found that attending to one or the other, as per one’s audience or conversation partner, is often necessary.

 6. You earned your doctorate relatively recently, in 2012, and have published widely since then. What advice would you give to current graduate students or fellow young professionals who are interested in submitting a paper for publication?

             It feels like it has been ages since then! My answer to the question is predicated on the idea that current students and young professionals have an area of study they are keenly interested in and familiar with, and have located gaps in the literature they might fill with, for instance, the application of new conceptual lenses to issues, or the construction of work translinguistically, transculturally or “across” disciplines.” First, participating in and forming relationships through professional activities may lead to opportunities for publishing. These may be local, regional, national or international, and of varying degrees of prestige. Gaining experience in the publishing process (submitting, being rejected, going through revisions if accepted, interacting with editors, waiting for potentially long periods of time, experiencing the joy of being published), no matter the level, is very beneficial, I believe. Additionally, students and young professionals should aim for journals that allow space for their conceptual commitments. I also think there is no reason to aim for the top journal in one’s area of interest first (although I am aware some people feel and indeed are pressured to do so), while discounting other publishing locations as less-than-desirable. At the same time, however, I would argue that people shouldn’t be afraid to do so, if they are confident in what they have written. Finally, I would say that being rejected does not necessarily mean that one’s work is academic crap. There are many reasons behind why something gets accepted or rejected. Attending to reviewer feedback, and asking for feedback from colleagues can be very valuable.

 7. What strategies or techniques do you use to keep yourself focused and motivated?

Two things come to mind. First, I have been blessed with amazing friends (Ali Fuad and Bedo, in particular), who double as my research partners. A.F., Bedo and I dialogue via e-mail, and occasionally through video chatting. Together, we share ideas and experiences, send each other articles and thoughts to mull over, and make each other laugh. Though we do have many things in common, each of us has our own unique worldview, which I believes keeps our conversations dynamic, fresh and productive. We have also set broad goals together, for what we hope to contribute to our profession critically and practically. In doing so, we have collaborated on quite a few projects together, and always have something, down the road, to work on. Cultivating these types of relationships is, I feel, very necessary and extremely rewarding. Second, I believe it is important to be attentive to the balance between your personal and professional life. Maintaining balance, for me, involves ordering priorities: my faith, my relationships with family, friends and community, my physical well-being (questionable at the moment), and my students and professional commitments in and beyond my workplace. Maintaining balance is not easy, and I am CONSTANTLY wrestling with it. I find, however, that I ultimately have much more productive mental space to be creative, focused and motivated, by seeking to be balanced.

 8.  Where do you see the NNEST movement going in the next 10 years? As co-editor, what topics would you like to see in the NNEST Newsletter?

How about if I start with where I would hope to see the movement go? I am convinced that approaches to identity and experience need to shift beyond critically-oriented binaries, in order to better apprehend and address inequity as it fluidly manifests in context. In relation to the NNEST movement institutionalized within TESOL, I would assert that moving beyond binaries is a must, if the movement is going to fulfill its mission to “create a nondiscriminatory professional environment for all TESOL members regardless of native language and place of birth” (NNEST-IS, 2014). In addition to a conceptual shift, this may also involve a name change as well, with the goal of inclusivity in mind. At the same time, however, individuals within the “movement” must be willing to work together, listen to each other, and embrace dialogue regarding conceptualizing and approaching inequity.

In concert with moving beyond binaries, I feel we need to greatly increase our attention to teachers’ accounts of negotiating identity in ELT contexts around the world, so as to be able to address the “local” in the “global” and “global” in the “local.” This includes attention to teachers’ assertion of agency in conceptualizing and confronting essentialist discourses in and beyond their classrooms. Murphy-Shigematsu (2008), discussing the common treatment of minority groups in Japan as homogenous groups with uniform experiences, argues that individuals’ accounts of conceptualizing, problematizing and negotiating borders of being and becoming cannot and should not be apprehended via the use of dichotomous categories of identity, as individuals may be more than simply the ‘invisible victimized’ (p. 286). I therefore believe we need to listen more, and not simply tell people what they are experiencing. Similarly, I believe the “movement” institutionally-speaking and otherwise, must also be decentralized, whether relating to conference and other professional development activities, researching, or writing and publishing. Ideas and information, and the ability to participate in our discourse community, must be made increasingly more visible and accessible.

Finally, we need to remember WHO we are advocating for, and WHY. Being part of the movement, dare I say, should not primarily be a platform for propelling one’s academic career forward! In addition, our advocacy should not begin to sound like a mantra to which we are dispassionately attached. We are seeking to address the inequity that real people are grappling with, personally and professionally, in present and often deeply painful ways.

NNEST Newsletter-wise, I would like to see a diversity of conceptualizations and approaches to inequity included, representative of what is in the literature and out in our field. I would like the newsletter to be directly accessible by people outside of the Interest Section. Most of all, I would like to see the newsletter dynamically provoking debate, discussion and reflection.


[1] When I say “essentialized,” I am referring to the subjective construction or acceptance and perpetuation of fixed categories of identity, predicated on the following commitments: We can/should define “pure” and “impure” in terms of identity; We can/should therefore define “inside” and “outside”; We can/should therefore define “us” and “them”; An individual is either “us” or “them”; on the “inside” or on the “outside”; There is a “right” and a “wrong” way to be (a person or member of a community); “Change,” is largely negative; it is the degradation of language, culture and identity; ”Change” can also be thought of as “fusion” (the foreignness or outside status of something or someone is always noted).


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