Social Justice and Criticality in SLA Research

Pamela Wesely, University of Iowa

Dr. Pamela M. Wesely received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Minnesota in 2009, and she is currently a Professor of Multilingual Education at the University of Iowa. She coordinates the World Language Teacher Education Program and is the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs in the College of Education. Dr. Wesely’s scholarship and teaching examines K-12 world language education in the United States. Building on eight years of work as a middle school French teacher and eleven years working in the experiential learning environment of Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota, she studies the attitudes, motivations, perceptions, and beliefs of stakeholders in K-12 world language education using mixed methods, quantitative, and qualitative approaches to inquiry. She is particularly interested in how the integration of social justice into language education can expand and transform our field. Her work has been published in journals including Foreign Language Annals, Modern Language Journal, Journal of Teacher Education, CALICO Journal, Language Teaching Research, and Journal of Mixed Methods Research. She is the co-author of Words and Actions: Teaching Languages Through the Lens of Social Justice (ACTFL, 2014, 2018). She has served as the Treasurer and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), and she is a former president of the Iowa World Language Association. She lives in Iowa City with her two children, her husband, two cats, and a dog.


In this plenary talk, we will delve into the ways that social justice and criticality can and should be centered in research in SLA and related fields. The talk will start with a conceptual grounding in scholarship on social justice education, building off of the important work done in applied linguistics and language education. We will consider whose voices dominate in SLA research, and whose voices are not often heard, and how we can challenge those patterns. Dr. Wesely will share some of her own work and that of fellow researchers that adopt critical perspectives. Finally, we will consider paths forward for SLA graduate students to grapple with social justice and criticality in their own research trajectories.