We are really pleased to have a post from a great supporter of DoctoralEAP – Julia Molinari
The posts on this blog have so far broached the ‘generalities’ of doing doctoral work, generalities that probably apply to anybody doing research. So, for example, we have read about the complexity involved in deciding what research to do (https://doctoraleap.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/complex-dynamic-systems/) and about the sheer fear of stumbling into the darkness (https://doctoraleap.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/of-dark-caves-and-community/).
In this post, I would like to build on these generalities and say a little about the specifics of researching EAP. The sketch below is meant to represent me – JM – surrounded by competing/complementary versions of EAP that I have come across so far and which sustain my curiosity for research in this area (my specific focus is academic writing, what it means in/for EAP, and beyond):
Other EAP-styles are clearly missing, eg. discipline-specific ones, but the point I wish to make is that each ‘style’ (or version/approach) is underlain by different ontologies of language and teaching, yet all claim to be representative of what EAP is (or could/should be).
For example, a systemic functional approach to EAP (SFL) relies on socio-semiotic theories of meaning-making to explain choice in academic language, whereas an academic literacies approach (AcLits) tends to foreground the social contexts of the learner. Between and beyond these, there are myriad umbrellas that EAP falls under, and a range of providers. My own EAP context, for example, places EAP within a university’s ‘School of Education’ which sits within the Faculty of Social Sciences, which in turn belongs to Higher Education provision, which means it is about Education, which is about ideology and politics, which ultimately means that EAP is contentious.
So, in one swift paragraph, I have just claimed that EAP is a political issue!
But this is what doing research in EAP has done to me! It has led me into unchartered waters although I kind of anticipated this, which is why I consciously chose non-EAP supervisors. The reason being that, epistemologically, I am committed to an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge, and I am essentially an educationalist in my EAP outlook.
But I’m now at that horrid stage in research where it feels never-ending, constantly unresolved, each question opening up an infinite regress of Russian dolls whereby I am unable to tackle the simplest of questions without first of all dealing with the entirety of human knowledge. Yes, of course I need to ‘narrow my focus’, but the fact remains that:
once you decide to do doctoral research, you have to be prepared to address theories of knowledge that take you beyond its traditional boundaries and that could potentially transform the field of EAP
Understanding EAP, in my experience, necessitates – in addition to its traditional theoretical framework (i.e. applied linguistics, see Flowerdew 2013) – an understanding of the following: sociology, philosophy, education, politics, psychology, and economics. This is because EAP is a social practice that involves teaching and learning, i.e. education, regardless of who is providing it. It is therefore not simply the transmission of a set of skills (linguistic and academic), but also of the formation of a set of educational values and beliefs.
I am aware that many theorists already publish in these areas, but I wonder, who else out there, in EAP, is doing a PhD or EdD that is leading them into unchartered waters? Are you being drawn to theoretical shores that you hadn’t anticipated reaching?
Flowerdew, L. (2013) English for Academic Purposes in C.A. Chapelle (ed.): The Encyclopaedia of Applied Linguistics, November 5 2012, pp. 1-7 (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.).
Julia Molinari is an EAP tutor and PhD researcher at the University of Nottingham in the UK.
 In the US, EAP is called ‘Composition Studies’ and its theoretical home lies in Rhetoric Studies which are usually located or outsourced from English Studies Departments (ie Literature, i.e. Humanities)