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Synecdochising student identities: EAL teachers' positioning of adult EAL students in Australia

Suma Sumithran (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Raqib Chowdhury (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Melissa Barnes (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) (La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 24 August 2022

Issue publication date: 4 January 2023




Adult student identities within EAL (English as an Additional Language) classrooms have often been positioned as static, homogenised and exoticised within scholarly literature. Within such positioning, teachers have embraced pedagogical practices which classify students by country of origin and represent student identities within binaries of Self and the Other, limiting these students' identity positionings for adoption within the EAL classroom. As a result, students are often rendered voiceless by essentialist discourses on culture and identity in the classroom that serve to replicate and reinforce dominant societal discourses and strengthen existing institutional power structures.


By drawing on a postcolonial theoretical framework comprising theories of race, identity, power, representation, synecdoche and Third Space, this paper interrogates current literature to understand the complex multidimensional and dynamic cultural identities of adult EAL students.


This paper reveals that adult EAL students are still being oversimplified within the classroom, not just disadvantaging students and institutions, but also hindering multicultural pedagogies.


This paper suggests that teachers require opportunities for critical reflection incorporated within a critical pedagogy in decolonised classrooms that can not only build respectful and equitable awareness of their students' cultural identities and educational and historical backgrounds but provide important implications for effective pedagogical practices.



Sumithran, S., Chowdhury, R. and Barnes, M. (2023), "Synecdochising student identities: EAL teachers' positioning of adult EAL students in Australia", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 13-26.



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