Critical Language Awareness: A beckoning frontier in social work education?

Clement Mapfumo Chihota


INTRODUCTION: Effective social work practice is predicated on empowering, inclusive and culturally responsive communication, and yet, there appears to be very limited focus on language awareness, let alone critical language awareness, in contemporary social work education—both within and beyond the Australasia context. This gap is more worrying against a background where neoliberal and instrumental discourses (Habermas, 1969; O’Regan, 2001) have freely proliferated, and now threaten to colonise virtually all areas of private and public life (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999). In response, this article advocates the inclusion of Critical Language Awareness (CLA) in contemporary social work education.

APPROACH: This article initially maps the broad scope and historical emergence of CLA, before surveying its key political and theoretical influences.

FINDINGS: The key outcome is that CLA—as delineated—clearly shares significant overlaps with social work co-values, particularly: justice, equality and a commitment to anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice (Dominelli, 2002; Payne, 1997). More importantly, CLA provides conceptual and analytical resources that promise to significantly sharpen students’ abilities to recognise, question and ultimately challenge, oppressive discourses (Fairclough, 2011; Manjarres, 2011; Wodak, 2006).

CONCLUSION: It is recommended that CLA strands be woven into existing social work themes and topics. The final part of the article offers some practical suggestions on how this could be done.


Critical Language Awareness; Social Work Education; Critical Pedagogy;

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