Panayota Gounari/ Associate Professor/ Department of Applied Linguistics

Panayota Gounari
Associate Professor
Department of Applied Linguistics

Welcome to my faculty website!  I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where I teach graduate courses in psycholinguistics, bilingualism, bilingual/multicultural education, language and literacy, and technology in language education. My research interests focus on language and literacy, linguistic hegemony, language and the new information and communication technologies (ICTs), and language policy. They also include a preoccupation with issues of critical pedagogy and public education as these intertwine with questions of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. I am also interested in the role and functions of the university and academics in the production and reproduction of knowledge.
I consider my research interdisciplinary since it draws from an array of disciplines including linguistics, education, sociology, cultural studies, and philosophy. Within this interdisciplinary framework, I have developed different strands that all meet at the same focal point: the critical analysis of aspects of language, literacy, and discourse within a socioeconomic context, and their implications for pedagogy. I use the term “discourse” to refer to language used within a sociopolitical and ideological context/reality. This context includes ways of thinking, attitudes, courses of action, practices, and beliefs that construct human beings, their world, and reality and at the same time, they are shaped by them. Discourses take place in institutionalized representations of the world/truth, “discursive practices.” More importantly, discourses are involved in the process of legitimization, power, and shaping what counts as “truth.”
I take pedagogy to be a broad category that expands beyond the strictly educational sites to include other spheres, such as media representations, discourses, and discursive practices, images, and texts produced in multiple contexts. This kind of pedagogy extends to all sectors of human life, including virtual spaces that have demonstrated enormous potential for the creation of new public spheres.
Along these lines, in my research, I consider education to be the major site of pedagogy, a central arena in which humanity is invented and reinvented, a sphere of possibility where agencies can evolve and where students and teachers can cultivate a language that guarantees a political project. This political project includes interventions that always strive for the creation of a more humane world. The importance of reinventing such language as a tool for human agency is central in my research. Within this critical framework, I try to make the case that language, rather than being presented as a neutral tool of communication equally available to all speakers, is imminently political. Hence, in my research, it has become imperative to re-politicize and re-historicize the question of language and its ensuing discourses and to reveal the discursive practices that shape it and are shaped through it. I attempt to reclaim language as a tool for civic participation, political and critical literacy, and the articulation of difference that is vital to a form of agency for democratic citizenship. What follows are the different strands of my research as I have developed and analyzed them in specific books, chapters, and articles.
Language, Hegemony, and Language Policy: A Critical Perspective: I have dedicated a large part of my research to exploring and analyzing the notion of linguistic hegemony. I draw my theoretical framework from Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) notion of hegemony and extend it to interpret how hegemony works today with language. The issue of linguistic hegemony inevitably raises questions of language policy and language rights. Another dimension of linguistic hegemony that interests me has to do with the ways it interplays with issues of immigration, borders, and cultural identities, and its implications for identity development among immigrant children who are often coerced to give up their native language and culture in order to successfully assimilate into the dominant US culture.
Language and Neoliberalism: In my preoccupation with issues of language and discourse, I have been interested in analyzing how neoliberalism, as an economic, political, and cultural practice that gives primacy to the market order and where profit and consumption are the defining factors of reality, has constructed and shaped language and discourses in the past two decades. I examine the discursive practices within the neoliberal order and challenge their instrumentalism and “naturalness.” If neoliberalism has managed in part to achieve a measure of transparency, naturalness, and inevitability, it has been done through a powerful discourse of “universality” and “Truth.” An important characteristic of the economic, social, and cultural changes of late modernity is that they exist as discourses as well as processes that are taking place outside discourse – processes that, in turn, are substantively shaped by them. Obviously, considerable economic interests are at stake in achieving hegemony over the discourse (and so the marginalization of others) within an economic discursive framework, especially given the potency of economic resources in shaping economic realities.
Racism and Racist Discourses: One consequence of neoliberalism has to do with economic dislocation and the already widening gap between a small group of “developed” nations and the majority of underdeveloped countries. Neoliberal policies are predicated on the wholesale exclusion of most of the world population from partaking equitably in the world’s resources, including education and health care. This form of exclusion cannot be viewed as anything other than racism. The permanent status of underdevelopment affects mostly countries that the dominant, racialized discourse characterizes as “nonwhite” and “other.” In addition to the characterization of otherness in order to devalue other human beings, neoliberal policies implement racist practices by largely excluding millions of people from equal participation in the economic world order it imposes. Such exclusionary practices are usually legitimized through a network of diffusion that has functioned to establish neoliberal ideologies.
Language and History: A conservative homogeneous historical narrative is presently being pushed into schools. Conservative educators and policy makers have been successful in promoting their own fatalistic romanticism through a historical discourse that reproduces an ideology of consensus. This monolithic, Eurocentric, westernized version of history produces a discourse of common sense while at the same time it uses a dehistoricized language for its dissemination and perpetuation. This discourse is stripped from its historicity, the discursive practices, ideologies, and politics that created it and it is largely neutralized. I am interested in the notion of official history, public memory, and the role of unsettling memories as a pedagogical tool. I analyze how language has been dehistoricized—that is, how it has lost its historical dimension—in this process and what that means for a project of emancipation and democracy. Ultimately, the issue of public memory is a pedagogical one. History opens up possibilities for a kind of transformative learning and an ensuing discussion of possibility.
The Information Age, Literacies, and Democratic Practices: Another strand in my research that weaves through my interest in language, critical pedagogy, literacy, and neoliberalism deals with the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the new information age. I am interested in how “old” and “new” literacies have redefined access to knowledge and information. I also look at technological hype as a byproduct of neoliberalism in advanced industrialized societies where almost everything is reduced to a mere commodity. ICTs, as new commodities, target audiences as consumers. As cultural commodities they are also semiotic, that is, they are composed of words and images. A critical perspective on new ICTs and web hype would mean that we create pedagogical spaces where students can sharpen their critical evaluation skills and raise questions about content, authority, and canons. Emancipatory possibilities emerge from looking at new technologies historically, from questioning their instrumental character, and from understanding their link to real life and especially to market interests.
Critical Pedagogy and The Role of Intellectuals in the Academy: My interest in the role of intellectuals in the academy stems from my own concern about my role as an academic and, therefore, a political being. It is also in line with my interest in public pedagogy, since I see academics as public intellectuals and agents of public pedagogy. I see the university as a site of knowledge production and reproduction, an arena for debate, democratic practice, critical thinking, collective work, and social struggle. Within educational sites educators as public intellectuals need to open up pedagogical spaces that transcend methodologies and best practices.Ultimately my project is fundamentally pedagogical--a project for a "paideia of autonomy" against the triumph of capitalist and neoliberal imaginary significations--and, therefore, also political. This pedagogical project necessarily requires a language that is open, free from operationalism and functionality, a historical language that is part of a democratic imaginary signification which questions any and all authority, including the authority of our own proper thoughts. Education is the central arena in which humanity is going to be reinvented in our quest for decommodification and reclamation of the public sphere, and where a language that guarantees a political project for intervention will be cultivated. And this is where the need for a "counter-education" becomes a project for educators, cultural workers, artists, and activists.