A review of ‘Archaeology of Research’
In response to the absence of English Language Education (ELE) research history in Bangladesh, Adilur Rahaman’s Archaeology of Research appeared in 2015. Rahaman meticulously scrutinizes the evolution of ELE research particularly in Bangladesh and broadly in Asia. Published by Muktochinta, a Dhaka-based publisher, Rahaman’s book offers an efficient application of symptomatic reading of research publications by Bangladeshi English Language Teaching (ELT) scholars, researchers, and practitioners. Symptomatic reading is crucial to understand the underlying assumptions that propel the researchers to deal with ELT issues, to adopt ontological and epistemological positions that determine methodological decisions, and finally to draw conclusions from the data they have collected. Rahaman’s intelligent use of French philosopher Louis Althusser’s technique of symptomatic reading has allowed him to alert the researchers to the ideological operations that influence the ELT research practices in Bangladesh.
The blurb suggests that the book documents 326 journal articles produced by ELT educators, researchers, and practitioners in the ELE context of Bangladesh between 1995 and 2013. Applying the two-layer technique of symptomatic reading approach, Rahaman explores the existing ELT research agenda and their ideological foundation. Through the surface layer symptomatic reading, Rahaman demonstrates what issues or topics ELT researchers in Bangladesh represent and what they overlook. The deep layer symptomatic reading reveals that the ideological orientation of ELT research in Bangladesh is epistemologically positivist, West-centric, and dehumanized. Rahaman argues that the interplay of the surface and deep structure of ELT research led to “creative impotency”. He suggests that ELT researchers need to consider dialectical materialism, anti-colonial approach, and people’s humanism to get rid of the impotent condition.
Archaeology of Research also addresses questions relevant to the growth of ELE research in Bangladesh. The predominant questions that are answered in the book include: How much research on ELE has been conducted in Bangladesh from 1995 to 2013? Have the issues of ELE been adequately addressed? Rahaman has answered these questions through categories and themes related to the above-mentioned questions. Although the categories and themes have emerged from the research works conducted in Bangladesh, the intellectual, scholarly, and academic insights of Rahaman in various chapters of the book are also relevant to the ELE research in other parts of the world.
Divided into nine chapters, Archaeology of Research presents a panoramic view of ELE research landscape of Bangladesh and beyond. Chapter One is the author’s introduction which is divided into four parts: objectives of the book, symptomatic reading process, politics in research, and the status of English language in Bangladesh. While presenting his analytical commentary on the politics of research in Chapter Two, Rahaman borrows heavily from Phillipson’s “educational imperialism”, Cohen et al’s notion of influence of power on research agenda, Arundhati Roy’s concept of “colonization of knowledge”, and Ahmed Javed’s “proletarization of knowledge”.
Rahaman dedicated Chapter Three to outline the research works on ELE in Asia. The researchers and practitioners in Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, Vietnam, Turkey, and Japan, have addressed research issues in the following areas: ELT methods; English language curriculum; students’ perceptions of motivation, and learning strategies; teachers’ perceptions of ELT methods, teacher training, and assessment; L1 interference; error analysis; teaching four skills, grammar, and vocabulary; language learning and identity; washback effects; language policy and planning; material development and evaluation; action research in ELT; and EMI (English Medium Instruction). Chapter Four is the author’s methodological framework that guides the production of this book. As has already been mentioned, Rahaman uses French Marxist Louis Althusser’s “symptomatic reading” as an analytical tool. Symptomatic reading, a philosophical reading of texts, detects the discursive boundary and digs out the texts to understand the underlying layer.
Chapter Five and Chapter Six may be considered as the crux of Rahaman’s contribution to the field of ELE in Bangladesh. Chapter Five offers a succinct but substantial analytical summary of the 326 articles produced on ELE in Bangladesh and published in local journals. The author’s symptomatic reading of the articles attends to the research questions, methodology, theoretical framework, findings, and also recommendations. Rahaman’s critical reading and analysis generates 24 categories, such as second language acquisition, language education policy, instructional methodology, communicative language teaching, learning styles, teaching English skills, assessment, to name a few. The chapter has been organized around these 24 categories. Chapter Six is embellished with the outcome of symptomatic reading of the articles. Precisely, Rahaman offers his critiques of the research approach and foci of the researchers and practitioners. The major critiques encompass English-legitimation discourse, anti-bilingual ideology, early start fallacy, linguicism, orientalism, native-speakerism, oppressive testing ideology, and mechanical reproduction.
Chapter Seven delineates Rahaman’s proposition of a South Asian paradigm to replace the existing mechanically reproductive West centric-positivist paradigm of ELE research in Bangladesh. Dialectical materialism, anti-colonial spirit, and socialist democratic humanism constitute South Asian paradigm which is creative and interdisciplinary. Chapter Eight briefly presents the limitations the author faced during the production of this maiden publication in the context of ELE research in Bangladesh. Chapter Nine is the author’s conclusion which is aligned with Chapter Four, the book’s methodology. Here, Rahaman recapitulates the presences and absences in the ELE research in Bangladesh.
I have a minor criticism with regard to the title of the book. The title is generic, not specific. Readers may be misled since many readers’ decision of reading a book is guided by the title of a book. “Archaeology of English Language Education Research in Bangladesh” may be considered in the next editions.
Written in lucid language, Archaeology of Research is an essential text for novice and seasoned researchers, academics, policy makers, students, and practitioners of ELE. It would not be any exaggeration to say that the book has tremendous potential to inspire and guide the future researchers.
To conclude, such an initiative by Rahaman to showcase the essential dimensions of research on English language teaching and learning clearly demonstrates his commitment to the advancement of ELE in Bangladesh. It is certainly a commendable adventure by Rahaman to fill out the gap of the absence of archiving the research output of ELE researchers and practitioners in Bangladesh. However, it is expected from Rahaman to form a research team that will anthologize the recent publications in the field of ELE. This may also motivate the relevant government agencies to think of a national repository of ELE research in Bangladesh.
Mohammad Shaiful Islam teaches English at Independent University Bangladesh (IUB). He can be reached at [email protected]