Author Interview: Christian Chun

We caught up with Christian Chun to discuss his book, The Discourses of Capitalism. Read on for our exclusive interview to find out what inspired Christian to write the book.

Christian Chun is Assistant Professor in the Applied Linguistics Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Previously, he was on the faculty in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, the Department of English at City University of Hong Kong, and the School of Education at UNSW Sydney, Australia. 

His current research addresses the discourses of capitalism in various sites such as the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classroom, and public and social media. Drawing upon his extensive teaching experiences spanning over twenty-five years in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong, he has researched and practiced critical pedagogy approaches to English language education. His first book, "Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom: Engaging with the Everyday", was published by Multilingual Matters in January 2015. His second book, "The Discourses of Capitalism: Everyday Economists and the Production of Common Sense", was published by Routledge in April 2017. He is a member of the Editorial and Advisory Board of TESOL Quarterly, and former Co-Editor of the Australian Review of Applied Linguistics. He is currently planning an edited volume on applied linguistics and politics.

What led you to this particular field of study?

As I mention in the introduction chapter, I have always been interested in economics; specifically, political economy since I was an undergraduate student at Franklin & Marshall College, where I majored in economics. Since then, I encountered political economy in its various material representations and instantiations through my activist work in the late 1980s and my teaching English language students, which began in 1991. I detail both in this chapter as well, but suffice to say here that I began to see how the economy and its significant impacts affected both the everyday people I met while I was an activist canvassing the many neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, and my students, beginning with the uprisings in Los Angeles over the Rodney King verdict in 1992.

What is the most significant idea which formed the book? Is there anything controversial about it?

The most important idea that drove the book was the search for the ways in which people could transform their common-sense understandings of capitalism into a critical appraisal and rejection of it, as well as an ensuing heightened awareness of the possibilities in alternatively organizing our economy and society that would benefit the 99% of us. I would say this notion that people can change their thinking about our economy is indeed a controversial one inasmuch as for so many years, capitalism has been equated and collocated with democracy and freedom, and to reject capitalism would appear that one is also against democracy and freedom, which I argue in the book is not the case.

What was the most challenging part of your research?

I would say the most challenging part was to critically engage with those who continue to champion capitalism as the only viable system of organizing our economy and society, despite their not benefiting from it to any significant degree, i.e., not being wealthy multi-millionaires themselves. How does one develop a critical pedagogical engagement in public spaces, both physical and virtual, to debate, discuss, and show how many of their ideas and preconceptions about capitalism do not match the material realities of it, while avoiding an condescending dismissal of their beliefs, which would further alienate them from joining any causes for social justice and equality?

Why is this book important now in the current political climate?

Interestingly the confluence of world events, particularly both the Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 US Presidential election has highlighted how many people are angry and fearful about their livelihoods and imminent economic futures but attribute the reasons to different causal agents, be it the government, the EU, and/or immigrants, while the political-economic system known as capitalism is itself unchallenged. I am hoping my book can contribute to a broader discussion and debate on our societies’ future and the roles we can play in helping to implement much more democratic governance and participation in all social realms including most importantly, the workplace.

What are you working on now? 

I am planning a follow-up to the book that addresses how capitalism shapes our daily lives, through our sense of time, narrative lived experiences, visual topographies, and media representations and reactions.

About the book

The Discourses of Capitalism

The Discourses of Capitalism

By Christian Chun

Since the global economic crisis of 2007–2008, ‘capitalism’ has been the topic of widespread general discussion in both mainstream and social media. In this book, Christian W. Chun examines the discourses of capitalism taken up by people in their responses to a street art installation created by Steve Lambert, entitled Capitalism Works for Me!

Format – 2017-04-06