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


  • Clement Mapfumo Chihota Bethlehem Tertiary Institute



Critical Language Awareness, Social Work Education, Critical Pedagogy,


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.

Author Biography

Clement Mapfumo Chihota, Bethlehem Tertiary Institute

Social Work Educator

Bethlehem Tertiary Institute


Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and philosophy and other essays. London, UK: New Left Books.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1987). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas.

Bernstein, B. (1972). A sociolinguistic approach to socialisation with some reference to educability. In J. J. Gumperz & D. H. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication (pp. 465–497). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Blommaert, J. (2007). Sociolinguistics and discourse analysis: Orders of indexicality and polycentricity. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 2(2), 115–130.

Blommaert, J., & Bulcean, C. (2000). Critical discourse analysis. Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, 447–466.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chouliuaraki, L., & Fairclough, N. (1999). Discourse in late modernity: Rethinking critical discourse analysis. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.

Collerson, J. (1994). English grammar: A functional approach. Sydney, NSW: PETA.

De Saussure, F. (1916). Course in general linguistics. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Diamond, I., & Quinby, L. (Eds.). (1988). Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on resistance. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Dominelli, L. (2002). Anti-oppressive social work theory and practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fairclough, N. (1989). Language and power. London, UK: Longmans.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London, UK: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London, UK: Routledge.

Fairclough, N. (2009). A dialectical-relational approach to discourse analysis. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse Analysis (pp. 162–186). London, UK: SAGE..

Foucault, M. (1972). The archeology of knowledge. London, UK: Tavistock.

Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality volume 1. London, UK: Penguin.

Fowler, R. (1996). On critical linguistics. In C. Caldas-Coultard & M. Coulthard (Eds.), Readings in critical discourse analysis. (pp. 3–14). London, UK: Routledge.

Fowler, R., Hodge, B., Kress, G., & Trew, T. (1979). Language and control. London, UK: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (1990). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideologies in discourses. London, UK: The Falmer Press.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks. New York, NY: International.

Habermas, J. (1969). On ideology and social change. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. London, UK: Edward Arnold.

Hart, C., & Lukes, D. (Eds.). (2007). Cognitive linguistics in critical discourse analysis: Application and theory. Newcastle. UK: Cambridge Scholar Publishers.

Iedema, R. (2004). Review article on: Kieran O'Halloran (2003). Critical Discourse Analysis and Cognitive Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. Linguistics and Education, 15, 413-423.

International Federation of Social Workers. (2014). Global definition of social work. Retrieved from:

Jackson, L. (1994). The dematerialisation of Karl Marx. London, UK; New York, NY: Longman.

Kress, G. (1996). Representational resources and the production of subjectivity. In C. R. Caldas-Coulthard & M. Coulthard (Eds.), Texts and practices: Readings in critical discourse analysis. London, UK: Routledge.

Kress, G., & Hodge, B. (1979). Language as ideology. London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (1990). Reading images. London, UK: Routledge.

Kristeva, J. (1986). Word, dialogue and the novel. In T. Moi (Ed.), The Kristeva reader (pp. 34–61). Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Luke, A. (2002). Beyond science and ideology critique: Developments in critical discourse analysis. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 96–110.

Manjarres, B. (2011). Critical discourse analysis: A review of the critique. Language 35(1), 219-242.

Martin, J., & Rose, D. (2003). Working with discourse: Meaning beyond the clause. London, UK: Continuum.

Musolff, A. (2007). Is there such a thing as discourse history? The case of metaphor. In C. Hart & D. Lukes (Eds.), Cognitive linguistics in critical discourse analysis: Application and theory (pp. 1–27). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

O’Regan, J. (2001). Critical discourse analysis. [Review of the book Discourse in late modernity: Rethinking critical discourse analysis, by L. Chouliaraki & N. Fairclough]. Language and Intercultural Communication, 1(2), 115–135.

Payne, M. (1997). The three pillars of social work. [Unpublished conference paper presented at a Social Work conference in Beijing]. Retrieved from

Pecheux, M. (1982). Language, semantics and ideology. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics. A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Sim, S. (1995). Derrida and the end of history (postmodern encounters). Cambridge, UK: Icon Books.

Titscher, S. Meyer, M. Vetter, E., & Wodak, R. (2000). Methods of text and discourse analysis. London, UK: SAGE.

The Guardian. (2016). Donald Trump Jr compares Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles. [Press release]. Retrieved from

Van der Hoek, W. (2000). [Review of the book Nonmonotonic reasoning, by G. Antoniou]. Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 9, 125-128

Van Dijk, T. A. (1999). Context and experience models in discourse processing. In H. van Oostendorp & S. Goldman (Eds.), The construction of mental representation during reading (pp. 123–148). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Volosinov, N. V. (1973). Marxism and the philosophy of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weedon, C. (1987). Feminist practice and poststructuralist theory. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Wodak, R. (2006). Mediation between discourse and society: Assessing cognitive approaches in CDA. Discourse Studies, 8(1), 179–190.




How to Cite

Chihota, C. M. (2017). Critical Language Awareness: A beckoning frontier in social work education?. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(2), 56–68.



Original Articles