Already read?!

Marta Degani and Werner Delanoy (2023) (eds.). Power in Language, Culture, Literature and Education. Perspectives of English Studies. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto.

The volume shows that the power of English can oscillate between empowerment and subjection, on the one hand enabling humans to develop manifold capabilities and on the other constraining their scope of action and reflection. Bringing together contributions from linguistics, literature, culture and language education, a case is made for self-critical English Studies to be dialogic, empowering and power-critical in approach.

Power is a highly controversial notion with multiple meanings. Since the advent of neo-Marxist, postmodernist, poststructuralist or postcolonial perspectives power has been associated primarily with hegemony and domination, with Michel Foucault’s work serving as a major reference point. However, the later Foucault suggested a notion of power inclusive of freedom, resistance, reversibility and social change and similar views have also been proposed by other philosophers (e.g. Byung-Chul Han). This book advocates for a flexible notion of power which permits inclusion of practices of domination and liberation. In line with Peter Zima’s dialogic theory, we take the ambivalence characterizing the concept of power as a pre-condition for critical thinking. This means that in our approach to power we assume neither absolute domination nor total freedom ever to be possible since we see the two poles as always competing with each other. Furthermore, the uses of power suggested by the contributors to this volume all aim for empowerment through practices of English Studies. In this sense, we align with Hannah Arendt’s understanding of power as the force to create a democratic public realm.

Nowadays, the English language is connected to forms of power in various ways. For example, the still growing demand for English as an international language is undoubtedly a major factor for widespread motivation to invest into learning English as a foreign language, leaving those at a disadvantage whose proficiency levels remain low. Moreover, in global popular culture the influence of Hollywood, Netflix or communication platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, all with strong roots in anglophone countries, can have a significant impact on people’s feelings, thinking patterns and modes of interaction. Yet, the use of English as an international language has also opened up manifold possibilities for empowerment. English as a global language can foster intercultural dialogue, promote cosmopolitan conviviality, and give marginalized voices a better chance to be heard.

The idea to reflect on the notion of power from the perspectives of English Studies was particularly inspired by the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the English Department at the University of Klagenfurt. Thus, the complex and multifaced notion of power has been explored from a multiplicity of perspectives in the major areas of English Studies represented at the Department: language and linguistics, literature, culture and education. For language and linguistics, topics include: (in)equality among world Englishes, forms of power in political, religious and banking discourses, methods for empowering language instructors and the empowering potential of question types in coaching. Among the contributions on literature and culture, authors address the capacity of literary texts to foster their recipients’ empathetic capabilities, discuss historical and contemporary perspectives on uses of power in literary texts as well as power abuse in discourses about non-human animals and player disempowerment in videogames. Issues in the area of education deal with the power of literature teaching in language education and that of teaching and learning academic writing skills as well as with perspectives on teacher empowerment in pre-service teacher training and in English-medium instruction. The volume comprises 19 chapters written by current and former colleagues at the Department of English, members of research projects based at the Department as well as affiliates who have supported the teaching programme at the Department throughout the years. All their chapters highlight two major interpretations of power: power as empowerment and power as domination. On the one hand, the authors emphasize how power can be liberating and enables human to develop manifold capabilities. On the other hand, power is seen as a form of domination/subjugation that inhibits people’s capacity for action, reflection and empathy. Altogether the contributions clearly express the intention of this book to make a case for perspectives in English studies that are dialogic, empowering and power-critical in approach.



Arendt, H. (2018 [1958]). The Human Condition. Second Edition. With a New Foreword by Danielle Allen. Introduction by Margaret Canovan. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, M.(1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8 (4), 777-795.

Zima, P.V. (2000). Theorie des Subjekts. Tübingen: Francke.