Nathanael Rudolph

Nathanael Rudolph

Thank you for participating in this interview. As editors of the NNEST of the month blog for a few years, we have had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of self-identified “Non-native” speakers and teachers of English from all over the world. For example, they have shared their pedagogical practices and ideas, perceptions on the challenges of hiring practices, and their scholarship and interest in continuing advocating for the need to expand views of what we mean by “English teaching.”

In addition, we have had the pleasure of participating in evolving conversations pertaining to the goals of the Non-native Speakers of English Interest Section (NNEST IS). Because of our own positionalities as teacher-scholars across institutional and geographical settings, disciplines, languages, and other aspects, we are particularly interested in making the conversation about the future of the NNEST IS more accessible to other teacher-scholars.

Interview by Cristina Sánchez-Martín

To begin, please tell us about your own teacher-scholar trajectory and, specifically, how you came to be the current NNEST IS chair.

First, let me say thank you very much for the honor of being interviewed a second time! In my first interview, I spoke about becoming active as a critically-oriented professional, so I will focus on becoming chair of the interest section (IS). I was introduced to the IS by a beloved friend and classmate of mine (Ali Fuad Selvi), who was very active in the IS, during my time at the University of Maryland. Ali Fuad invited me to participate in an NNEST IS-sponsored panel at the TESOL Convention in 2009. Following that, I served as a co-editor of the NNEST IS newsletter for a few years, with my close friend (and classmate) Bedrettin Yazan, and, due to this role, I was part of the IS Steering Committee. I was encouraged to run for Chair, following Bedrettin, by a few members of the Steering Committee (past and present at that time), as Bedrettin and I had both expressed our commitment to contributing to shape the IS into a dynamic community that would attend to the needs and goals of members, and fulfill its mission to contribute to problematizing marginalization and cultivating equity, in and beyond the ELT profession.

From your perspective as an active member of the NNEST IS, how has the movement evolved since you were interviewed in 2015?

In answering this question, I first want to touch upon what is meant by the “NNEST Movement” (Selvi, 2014, 2016),  as this connects directly with how I will respond.

In early 2015, I and others situated all literature accounting for the lived experiences of teachers positioning themselves and/or positioned as “NNESTs” within the “NNEST Movement.” Since then, however, I, in line with an increasing number of scholars, have described the “NNEST Movement” in my own work and professional activities, as underpinned by two general critical lenses, both of which apprehend identity and experience categorically (see Yazan & Rudolph, 2018). These two lenses are: 1) the lens of “juxtaposed nativeness” (e.g., Medgyes, 1992, 1994, 2001) and the “NNEST Lens” (e.g., Mahboob, 2010). In a basic sense, the lens of “juxtaposed nativeness” involves:

*The juxtaposition of the native speakerhood of “NESTs” against the local nativeness and idealized non-nativeness of “NNESTs” (e.g., Medgyes, 1992, 1994, 2001), and the contention that both “NESTs” and “NNESTs” possess strengths and weaknesses, and can therefore complement each other in the profession.

*The idea that “NNESTs” can draw upon their language learning experiences, and their “own/native/first/local” language,” in the classroom. Notably, this scholarship refers both implicitly and explicitly to a “local NNEST,” when discussing local language practice in the classroom (creating a new binary of local/non-local).

Through this lens, the juxtaposed categories of “NS/NEST” and “NNS/NNEST” are left largely undertheorized, and the goal of idealized nativeness in English is basically unchallenged.

The “NNEST Lens” is a response to deficit approaches to identity predicated in idealized nativeness. This work, at times, draws upon postcolonial, postmodern and poststructural theory and research, aiming to account for the complexity of identity and interaction that characterizes classrooms and the settings in which they are located.

While attempting to move beyond idealized nativeness pertaining to English, the NNEST lens nevertheless does not do away with categorical apprehensions of identity. Instead, through this lens, the “NNEST” category is exclusively assigned “multilingualism, multiculturalism, and multinationalism” (Mahboob, 2010, p. 15), juxaposed against an undertheorized “native speaker.” This work draws upon Holliday’s (2005, 2006) conceptualization of native speakerism, or the idealized NS construct as an actualized discourse, to account for manifestations and perpetuations of privilege and marginalization. Native speakerism, according to Holliday, is a universalized and largely uniformly experienced discourse, originating in the West, which leads to the personal-professional privileging of “NSs/NESTs,” and marginalization of the identities and abilities of “NNSs/NNESTs,” in contexts around the globe. Native speakerism is linked to the NS fallacy (Phillipson, 1992), or the idea that “NS” teachers whose identities align with the idealized NS construct, are assumed to be better, and therefore more desirable, teachers. Through the NNEST lens, therefore, privilege and marginalization are experienced categorically, and, as Aslan and Thompson (2016) contend, “it is NNESTs who are discriminated against in the profession” (p. 2).

These two lenses have largely dominated the way the field of ELT, and (in my experience) the membership of our IS, apprehend privilege-marginalization, though the “movement” and IS are not one and the same (at least at present).

What I (and others) no longer situate within the “NNEST Movement” is work that draws upon postcolonial, postmodern and poststructural theory to problematize the use of categories to apprehend and address privilege-marginalization in and beyond the field. This scholarship has highlighted teachers’ and learners’ dynamic, sociohistorical, contextual and discursive negotiations of identity (e.g., Aneja, 2016; Houghton & Rivers, 2013; Park, 2017; Yazan & Rudolph, 2018), noting that who individuals “are,” and “can” and/or “should” be or become, as owners, learners, users and instructors of English, simultaneously relates to notions of community membership in the context in which ELT occurs (Rudolph, 2016). Through this lens, researchers have thus contended that individuals may experience degrees and combinations of fluid privilege-marginalization, in and across “categories” of being, both in and beyond the classroom. Through such a lens, the NS fallacy is also apprehended as a dynamic and contextualized construction, and may pertain to idealized nativeness in local language/s, as well as to English (e.g., Rivers, 2016; Rudolph & Yazan, 2018). Such scholarship therefore argues that category-oriented “assumptions” (impositions) regarding identity and experience may essentialize learner, user and instructor identity, thereby stripping them of voice, and weakening our ability to address how and why inequity contextually manifests. This work, is, above all, calling for attention to context, and to people’s contextualized negotiation of identity both in and beyond the classroom. I must also note that many key voices within the NNEST Movement also refrain from situating this work within its parameters.

Critical scholarship, I would therefore argue, is what has been evolving since 2015; not necessary the “NNEST Movement.” There are most certainly, however, individuals who situate themselves within the movement, who listen, re-evaluate, and evolve. The incredible Ana Wu is one of the first people who comes to mind. She has faithfully served the IS for years, and is always ready to listen and reconsider, and ultimately, dialogue.

As a scholar with an interdisciplinary education, do you think that the trajectory of the NNEST movement reflects conversations in adjacent fields of study?

I believe that the roots of the “NNEST Movement” can be traced to sociohistorical, scholarly resistance to colonial agendas that utilized ELT grounded in idealized nativeness as a vehicle to privilege and marginalize. Certainly scholars who situate themselves, or who might be situated, within the NNEST Movement, have referred to the fact that ELT has been bound up with the epistemic violence of colonialism/imperialism.  I feel, however, that in apprehending identity and experience via imposed categories centered on conversations about the ownership, learning, use and instruction of “English,” scholarship within the “movement” is greatly limited in its ability to contextually account for how privilege-marginalization manifest, who experiences such privilege-marginalization, and why, within and beyond our globalized profession.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean, from my own context. Scholars drawing from and contributing to scholarship from the (overlapping) fields of sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, biology (and more specifically, genetics), sociolinguistics and education, have highlighted the fact that Japan has been and continues to be a site of movement, diversity and hybridity (e.g., Befu, 2001; Burgess, 2012; Chapman, 2008; Lie, 2004; Morris-Suzuki, 1997; Robertson, 2002; Sugimoto, 2009; Willis & Murphy-Shigematsu, 2008). Their work has both directly and indirectly contributed to the apprehension of English language education in Japan as: 1) predicated upon the historical perpetuation and maintenance of idealized, essentialized Japaneseness (linguistically, culturally, ethnically, socioeconomically, religiously, and so forth), contrasted against an idealized Otherness/nativeness in English, and 2) reflecting and shaping larger conversations in Japan regarding who people “are” and “can” and/or “should” be or become as members of Japanese society. To boil conversations in Japan regarding privilege-marginalization down to “nativeness/non-nativeness” in English, is to ignore complexity. Here are just a few examples:

*Privilege and marginalization manifest in diverse ways, in and across contexts in “Japan” (Houghton & Rivers, 2013);

*At the university level, roles for teachers most often correspond with idealized nativeness in English and idealized Japaneseness. This includes who “can” and/or “should use local language in the classroom, what subjects they might teach, and their ability to gain tenure-track or tenured positions (Houghton, Rivers & Hashimoto, 2018; Rudolph, Yazan & Rudolph, 2018; Simon-Maeda, 2011; Toh, 2016);

*(Near)nativeness in Japanese is a common hiring criterion for university positions (e.g., Rivers, 2016);

*Teachers can therefore be fluidly marginalized-privileged as, for example, “non-native speakers” of English/“native speakers” of Japanese (e.g., Houghton & Rivers, 2013; Rudolph, 2016);

*Teachers’ negotiations of (potentially) privilege-marginalization may involve how they position themselves and are positioned, both in ELT and the context in which it is situated, in terms of (for example) “gender,” “religion,” “history,” “geography,” “ethnicity,” and “socioeconomic status” (Rudolph, Yazan & Rudolph, 2018);

*Teachers whose identities do not correspond with idealized nativeness in English or in Japanese, are largely absent at the university level, or face degrees of marginalization (e.g., Rivers & Ross, 2013; Yazan & Rudolph, 2018);

*Japanese and other teachers can face Othering due to their identities and (critically-oriented) activities coming into conflict with perpetuated notions of idealized nativeness in English/Japaneseness (e.g, Oda & Toh, 2018);

*Agency is commonly conceptualized in critically-oriented scholarship as emancipatory. Agency, however, might be reconceptualized as an individual’s capacity to trouble and/or not to trouble the ways they position themselves and others, and are positioned, in ways that may appear “contradictory” (Rudolph, Yazan & Rudolph, 2018). Thus, they may pick and choose critically-oriented battles through which to address manifestations of privilege-marginalization, while preserving their own authority, resources and income. This is not exclusive, by any means, to teachers positioned as “native speakers of English” (Yazan & Rudolph, 2018);

*English language education very often serves to reinforce the idea of a “homogenous Japan,” which gained momentum during a period of nation building and the corresponding construction of a shared national identity, during the mid to late 1800’s. ELT thus plays a role in wiping away Japan’s history as a site of movement, diversity and hybridity, thus stripping learners and teachers of space to voice and draw upon their lived experiences (e.g., Heinrich, 2012; Rudolph, 2016; Toh, 2016).

In order to address what we perceived as a disconnect between the scope of our IS and critical voices in and beyond our community, Bedrettin (Immediate Past Chair), Ana (Chair Elect) and I purposefully added an additional goal to the IS’s scope in its transition plan, which is to, “Connect with other critically-oriented professional communities within and beyond TESOL International, in unity and in recognition that privilege-marginalization manifests in ways unaddressed by the scope of the IS.”

In your 2015 piece co-authored with Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan, you provide an overview of the history of the NNEST movement and major moments that contributed to its growth since 1996, when George Braine organized the colloquium “In their own voices: Non-Native speaker professionals in TESOL” (p. 30). In addition, you discuss the contributions of studies informed by postmodernist and post-structuralist perspectives to teachers’ identities. In what practical ways do these perspectives account for and explain teachers’ actual pedagogical practices?

In my opinion, one of the most powerful contributions that work drawing upon postmodern and poststructural theory can make when speaking of teaching, is to account for and value individuals’ contextualized negotiations of identity, and their drawing upon identity as/in practice, in ways that confound categorical descriptions.

Such scholarship also allows teachers to problematize the complex contextualized web of discourses giving shape to localized constructions of idealized nativeness in English. In my context, for example, wherein idealized nativeness in English is tied to idealized notions of Japaneseness, I talk about diversity within Japanese society, while I talk about the diverse contexts, varieties, functions and users of “English.” This simultaneously opens the door classroom explorations of the complex ways of being in Japanese society as well as in terms of the world my students may potentially encounter beyond Japan.

In addition to challenging idealized nativeness in English and idealized localness (Japaneseness in my context, for example), scholarship underpinned by postmodern and poststructural theory has also allowed for the problematization of neoliberal centrality of English, both in and beyond the field of ELT. In my context, for example, I have argued in line with others (e.g., Kubota, 2013) that interaction with individuals from diverse backgrounds occurs in Japanese as a (multi)lingua franca, and that equipping individuals for such interaction should be prioritized. Mentioning this will not make me popular, but the “NNEST Movement,” as with TESOL, institutionalized and otherwise, has failed to directly address both the neoliberal spread of English, and the supremacy of English in discussions of bi-/trans-/multi-/plurilingualism.

In the same piece, you call for a revision of “approaches to conceptualizing inequity within the NNEST movement” (p.42). Since the publication of the article, what specific actions have been taken to revisit approaches to “inequity”? What specific “inequity” issues are you attempting to respond to during your term as chair of the NNEST IS?

There are many things I have hoped to address. Here are a few:

My desire has been to avoid imposing upon my fellow professionals what I imagine to be their lived experiences with privilege-marginalization, and to instead both listen to them and provide them space for voice and the opportunity to dialogue with others. In doing so, I have also taken issue with what I believe are issues within criticality (which I’ve mentioned above).

I (and others) have also worked to bring attention to the fact that privilege-marginalization extends far beyond the classroom, connecting to localized negotiations of community membership (for instance). This sounds like a no-brainer, but often the larger sociohistorical conversations pertaining to the contexts in which our profession takes place are often left undiscussed, which, in my opinion, weakens our ability to truly address how and why inequity manifests.

Additionally, I have tried to pay attention to who is “missing” in teaching contexts around the globe. Often, who is not employed, and why, is not taken into account when scholars discuss manifestations of privilege-marginalization.

One of the most “visible” or tangible recurrent issues intrinsically linked to post-structuralist and postmodernist approaches to scholarship in the NNEST movement is its nomenclature. Among others, you argue that “nomenclature within the movement would necessarily reflect a shift in worldview” (2015, p. 40). Could you tell us the rationale behind nomenclature alternatives to the native/ non-native false binary like the more recent term “Transnational TESOL practitioners” (used in a recent call for contributions to an edited collection by Jain & Yazan)? What exactly would the “ideal” label/name need to capture?

I think there are a variety of rationales behind why people are problematizing nomenclature. Some people are attempting to replace “NNEST” with “multilinguals,” for example, which I believe only serves to reify binaries of identity (multilingual juxtaposed against a hypothetical “native speaking monolingual”). Others are searching for labels that include people rather than push them away. This is a conversation we could turn into  a paper or two!

I like how Rashi (Jain) has gone her own direction with names, in a manner that aligns with her desire to account for identity as/in motion. I don’t want to attach myself to any one label, other than to say that I hope for descriptive language that is inclusive, and transcends imposed categories of identity. I personally refer to my colleagues, for example, as fellow “professionals.”

Finally, could you please share your insights into what future editors of this blog can do to contribute to making possible the vision for the NNEST movement that you and other scholars are working to achieve?

I want to thank you, and everyone involved in the blog, for all your hard work. I hope the blog can continue to serve as a space not to reinforce one way of thinking about criticality, but rather to cultivate dialogue amongst our members and with other members of our profession. It would also be wonderful to have calls for submissions in and beyond TESOL (the institution), so that individuals whose stories and contexts might not normally be accounted for, would be highlighted.


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