What good is a conceptual framework, anyway?
In the first entry I made to this blog, I tried to provide a brief summary of what my research was about and what aims I have set out to attain. My immediate aim, I wrote, was to generate a ‘thick’ description of an educational setting in the periphery of the ELT world. In addition to this, my research aims to generate a conceptual framework that accounts for various linguistic, pedagogical and political influences on ELT.
I recently found myself trying to explain these same aims to a group of professional acquaintances. Predictably, I found it relatively straightforward to convince them of the former aim. It was quite straightforward to point out that ELT research has generally tended to focus on Centre settings [i.e., countries where English is spoken natively] and, once one accepts that premise, the need for similar research in the countries like Greece seemed intuitively obvious.
Making the case for the conceptual framework proved rather harder, as the usual concerns were raised about the nebulous nature of ‘Theory’. Someone rightly pointed out that such a framework could not possibly take into account all the complexity of situated practice. Others seemed unconvinced about the feasibility of generating ‘Theory’ from a single case, and expressed reservations about the generalisability of my findings. Indeed, there does seem to be some tension between detail and abstraction, in that the more detail the framework tries to take into account, the harder it becomes to disassociate from the particular setting from which it was derived; conversely, more abstract conceptualisations involve a loss of detail which could make the framework seem less and less relevant any specific setting. Even more challenging than these questions, was the demand to know: what is the value of such a framework?
Let me make this clear: the theoretical framework I have in mind is of very limited use as a source of ready-made answers about ELT. Still, I believe that it can be useful as a conceptual tool which might help (some of) us to make sense of reality. Readers, whether they are academics or professionals, may find it helpful to compare my account against their own reality and perhaps draw parallels wherever relevant. Even better, they might find instances where my insights seem unhelpful or inadequate, and use these as starting points in order to enrich the framework with new parameters. In other words, the conceptual framework is not intended as an authoritative account of what ELT is. Rather, it makes the somewhat more modest claim of being an instrument which will help individual readers work out what ELT is for them.