Wednesday Seminar: “Everything is dangerous”: Exploring Research on Agency and Language Learning

Elizabeth Miller, Associate Professor from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will give a talk on agency and language learning. 

Why did agency come to be regarded as a fundamental construct in language learning (and, more recently, language teaching) research only in the 2000s and 2010s? Is it even possible to research and analyze such a “hypothetical construct” (Mercer 2012)? How might it come to be a “dangerous” (cf. Foucault, 1997) focus of research for applied linguists? This presentation will address these questions through drawing on the author’s research with adult immigrant small business owners in the U.S. who learned English informally, primarily in non-classroom contexts. To that end, it will briefly examine the shifts or expansions in theory and methodology and the increasing transdisciplinarity in applied linguistics research in the mid-1990s and early 2000s that helped to mobilize research on language learner agency. It will then introduce narrative accounts of language learning by adult immigrants that demonstrate how agency can be understood and analyzed as relational articulation rather than individual capacity. And, finally, it will explore the interrelationship of agency and responsibility in light of research on neoliberal responsibilization, ending on a cautionary note regarding the “moral commitments” (Davies, 1991) that constitute our understanding of agency in language learning and pointing to its "dangerous" potential.


Elizabeth R. Miller (Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the U.S. Her research has focused on concepts such as identity, agency, ideology, and power relations in relation to language learning among adult immigrants in the U.S. More recently, she has focused on the relationship of agency and emotions in language teacher practice. Her work can be found in numerous journals and edited books. She has published a monograph (2014) and two co-edited collections (2015, 2019) with Multilingual Matters as well as a Special Issue in System (2018) that focus on the role of agency in language learning or language teaching. 


Anne Golden, Pawel Urbanik
Published Mar. 25, 2019 10:56 AM - Last modified Oct. 15, 2019 3:57 PM