Why is the EAP for Social Justice SIG needed?

In the current era, it is difficult to ignore the fact that our universities, our countries and our world are riddled with inequality … but what has social justice got to do with EAP?

Indeed, pragmatists may argue that the role of the EAP practitioner is, and should continue to be, limited to the nuts and bolts of teaching, learning, curriculum design and assessment, and that involvement in wider ideological concerns is beyond our remit. Such a perspective is often reinforced by the current trends towards the marketisation and commodification of programmes of study within the HE sector, which tends to instrumentalise activities related to these, thereby promoting in some learners and teachers a narrowing in how they see themselves and their roles. When seen in the light of Fromm’s humanist philosophy, such instrumentalisation can be regarded in terms of a general shift from being to having; from being a learner (or an educator) to having (or giving) a qualification in order to increase a student’s employability prospects through socialising them into existing cultural norms (Molesworth, Nixon & Scullion, 2009). An unequivocal alignment with this stance would imply that one believes that social justice has little to do with either EAP or with the remit of HEIs more generally.

However, there is a small but growing movement against this normative stance, stemming from the work of Freire (1970: foreword), who stated:

There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

In terms of how Freirean philosophy has been applied to EAP, it is most overtly evident in the literature on Critical EAP and Academic Literacies, which both use a social justice lens to encourage teachers and learners to critique the underlying power structures of HEIs, specific disciplines, academia more widely and society as a whole in order to challenge inequality in its many forms. Though intuitively appealing to many EAP practitioners who regard themselves as educators in the humanistic tradition and who encourage learners to belearners, these two research streams have not made a significant impact on the mainstream theories and practices of EAP to date (Ding & Bruce, 2017), though Academic Literacies has made more of an impact in the field of Learning Development.

Notwithstanding, if one casts the net more widely into the field of EAP, it is evident that there are other emerging currents of discussion in our profession which have not necessarily overtly been associated with the term “social justice”, but which may, under close examination, be regarded as using a social justice lens. One such area of interest to many in the BALEAP community is that of the positioning of the EAP and the EAP practitioner within the neo-liberal university (e.g. Ding & Bruce, 2017; MacDonald, 2016; Hadley, 2015), and recent calls for practitioners to regard this as an opportunity to embrace “third space working” (MacDonald, 2016) and a re-definition their purpose and values (Ding & Bruce, 2017), which, for some, may involve adopting a social justice lens in their work. Indeed, one of the key aims of this SIG is to advocate for such a redefinition, and for social justice to lie at the heart of this.

Another emerging theme evident from a close inspection of recent EAP literature and conference papers (e.g. Jenkins, 2019; Silburn, 2019; Brewer & Whiteside, 2019) is that of widening participation in HE through offering EAP pathways to groups such as forced migrants who traditionally face barriers. In their capacity as linguistic gatekeepers for entry onto academic courses, EAP units are ideally placed to take up the mantle suggested by Benesch (2001:130) of acting as “advocates for inclusion” rather than “enact[ing] exclusionary policies aimed at keeping out non-elite students”. EAP practitioners and managers at some HEIs have risen to this challenge, initiating and energising initiatives such as offering free places to forced migrants on pre-sessional programmes and working closely with local charities to provide pathway ESOL classes (see Palanac [2019] for an example of how this is working in practice at the University of Leicester). That EAP practitioners at a number of universities are thinking and acting in a similar vein was evidenced at the April 2019 BALEAP conference, in which there were three presentations focusing on EAP for forced migrants, detailing projects run by EAP practitioners in conjunction with charities such as the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), RefuAid and City of Sanctuary UK.

It can be seen from the above examples that there is a good degree of interest and impetus in the BALEAP community for social justice initiatives, even though these may not overtly go by the name “social justice”. As noted above, one of the aims of this SIG is to bring these themes together under the umbrella theme of social justice, thus increasing the visibility and potency of the field, and also the potential for cross-fertilisation.

In terms of other potential themes (in addition to the two expanded on above) that might form the focus of this SIG, the following forms a non-exhaustive list:

· Critical Pedagogy (including Critical EAP and Academic Literacies)

· Critiquing /evaluating social justice ideologies

· reflecting social justice issues in EAP content and materials, and promoting student engagement with Critical Pedagogy

· the local versus the global

· the affordances of third space working (related to Whitchurch’s [2008:2] notion that the blurring of institutional roles is leading to the creation of “new forms of institutional space” – a sort of third space between professional and academic staff)

· working within and around neo-liberal structures

· marketization, financialisation and commodification versus humanism in HE (the “having” versus “being” dichotomy)

· inclusive and trauma-informed EAP pedagogies

· widening participation

· decolonising the curriculum

· equalities issues (gender, sexual orientation, race, class, etc)

· English as an Academic Lingua Franca versus plurilingualism and translanguaging

· Role of EAP practitioners to promote inter-cultural communication and global citizenship

· Teaching through Compassion and Affective Pedagogy

· supporting EAP students with learning differences (e.g. dyslexia)

· internationalisation at home

· Pre-sessional telecollaboration with students from the Global South

· critical trans-disciplinarity

· “othering” in the academy

· challenging the deficit model of L2 learners

· universities as the “critic and conscience of society”

· education as transformation

· critical thinking and multiple perspectives about social justice issues

· EAP and sustainability

· Identity issues – role and positioning of EAP practitioners and students

· Reducing the attainment gap between traditional and non-traditional students


Bond, B. (2019). International students: language, culture and the ‘performance of identity’. Teaching in Higher Education.

Benesch, S. (2001) Critical English for Academic Purposes: Theory, politics and practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Brewer, S. & Whiteside, K. The Cara Syria programme – combining teaching of English for Academic Purposes and academic and research skills development. Special Section: Language learning for and with refugees in higher education. Editors: Fiona Dalziel and Francesca Helm. Language Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), pp. 161-172. Retrieved 22 Nov. 2019, from doi 10.1515/cercles-2019-0010

Ding, A., & Bruce, I. (2017). The English for Academic Purposes practitioner: Operating on the edge of academia. Palgrave Macmillan.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum.

Godfrey, J. & Whong, M. (2019, April). Dual practitioning: A step beyond collaboration. Paper presented at the BALEAP Conference, Leeds, UK.

Hadley, G. (2015). English for Academic Purposes in neo-liberal universities: A critical grounded theory. Springer.

Jenkins, M. (2019, April). EAP for Syrian academics at risk: Facilitating engagement and collaboration. Paper presented at the BALEAP Conference, Leeds, UK.

Jones, D.G., Galvin, K. & Woodhouse, D. (2000). Universities as critic and conscience of society: The role of academic freedom. New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit https://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/ASQ6%20Critic%20and%20Conscience.pdf

MacDonald, J. (2016). The margins as third space: EAP teacher professionalism in Canadian universities. TESL Canada Journal, 34(11), 106-116. doi: 10.18806/tesl.v34i1.1258

Palanac, A. (2019). Renaissance of the gatekeepers: Establishing a culture of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers at the University of Leicester’s English Language Teaching Unit. Special Section: Language learning for and with refugees in higher education. Editors: Fiona Dalziel and Francesca Helm. Language Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), pp. 117-125. Retrieved 26 Oct. 2019, from doi: 10.1515/cercles-2019-0006

Silburn, R. (2019, April). Community engagement as a way of training future EAP practitioners. Paper presented at the BALEAP Conference, Leeds, UK.

Taylor, S. (2019, April). The professional identity of EAP practitioners: Professional knowledge, scholarship and research. Paper presented at the BALEAP Conference, Leeds, UK.

Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting identities and blurring boundaries: The emergence of Third Space professionals in UK higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4) 377-396.

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