Cynthia White: Agency, Emotion, Conflict and Answerability

  • Date: Thursday 15 June 2017

Agency, Emotion, Conflict and Answerability: Inside the Lifeworlds of Language Teachers

3.30 – 5pm, Blenheim Terrace SR (1.16) House No. 11-14

Cynthia is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of Research at Massey University. She has published two books and over 60 articles on distance and online language learning, language and migration, and language, emotion and identity. She is also external advisor of CELT (Centre for Excellence in Language Teaching). You can find out more about her here:

Drawing on Habermas’ notion of lifeworlds – that is the perspective that people have of the world that emerges from their everyday lived experiences – this talk examines how emotion and conflict together with answerability dimensions of agency characterise the ways language teachers talk about their work. To do this I refer to two quite different contexts: a general English class for immigrants and refugees and an online roleplay for tertiary learners of Spanish. We gain access to the first through multiple teacher narrative accounts of an intense incident of emergent conflict in a class focusing on everyday life in New Zealand: here we look at agency and emotion across timescales and dilemmas of answerability. In the second study, using stimulated recall procedures and tutor journals, we look inside Spanish Adobe Connect roleplay sessions to see how the learning and teaching environment unfolds moment by moment from the perspective of the teacher, at once constraining and opening up possibilities for action. The talk reveals the complexities that underlie what teachers identify as ‘key moments’ in relating to others, in deciding how to act, in relaying the back-and-forth of classroom interactions, and in what they have to say about their professional lives. To conclude the talk addresses wider questions about how and why emotions get talked about as teachers author themselves and assign meaning from within their lifeworlds as crucial dimensions of their agency.