Exploring Chinese instructors’ perceptions and practices of integrating culture into tertiary-level English education: A case study
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Pedagogical conceptualization of culture influences, in significant ways, how language instructors identify cultural points, contextualize culture for pedagogical purposes, and scaffold student meaning-making. Although this issue is at the core of intercultural pedagogy, literature suggests it remains insufficiently investigated. As a meaning-based and process-oriented study, this research aimed to develop an in-depth understanding of participants’ collective ways of conceptualizing culture within English language teaching (ELT), delineate the most salient features of their classroom meaning-making, and reveal the contextual factors that shaped the local perceptions and practices. This case study employed a qualitative research approach and explored twelve participants’ perceptions and practices of integrating culture into ELT in a higher educational institution in China. Data were collected through one-on-one semi-structured interviews, non-participant classroom observations, and documentation. The findings of the study revealed that the participants conceived culture more as a noun with its referential meaning ready to be transmitted to the learner in form of objective knowledge than as a verb (Street, 1991) with its meaning to be explored and interpreted in dynamic social interactions. Further, they perceived culture more as social constraints in form of cultural norms that demanded conformity than as public resources that could be drawn on strategically and creatively to serve purposes. In addition, they viewed culture more as value-free that could be grasped at the denotative level than as value-laden with its barely known face hidden under the veil of cultural myth (Barthes, 1957). In terms of participants’ general approach to culture in-ELT, they tended to contextualize culture in self-sanctioned “purified” ways. There was a general resistance towards problematizing cultural meaning and engaging learners in “struggles over meaning” (Kubota, 1999, p. 30). The participants were usually at the center of classroom meaning-making and monologic meaning-making featured most classrooms observed. Overall, Classroom discourses did not enact a dialogic stance nor were they oriented towards engendering productive meaning-making and developing agentive cultural competence. The contextual conditions that influenced participants’ perceptions and practices included participants’ low theoretical literacy level, insufficient in-service education opportunities, sanitized culture-related textbook contents, and the burning issues resulted from the changing ideological landscape in China. The study concluded that the meaning-making potentials of the current culture instruction could be expanded through exploring poststructuralist perspectives on culture and reorienting culture pedagogies towards individual-level culture, problematized cultural meanings, and more agentive cultural competence. The implications of the study for policy, practice, theory development and further research, as well as the recommendations arising from it, were discussed.