Visual Representation of Whiteness in Beginning Level German Textbooks

Visual Representation of Whiteness in Beginning Level German Textbooks

Silja Weber (Department of Germanic Studies, Indiana University Bloomington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2017070101


Textbooks are inherently ideological, and language textbooks in particular are designed to create a particular representation of the target culture for learners. This paper draws on a foundation of Whiteness studies, textbook bias studies, and critical discourse analysis. It investigates in depth the visual and cultural representation of Whiteness in one beginning level textbook for German as a foreign language and draws on three further textbooks for comparison. Differences between North American and German concepts of race and Whiteness are taken into account. Results identify a Whiteness bias in all books, but differing strategies for diversity representation; the most recently published textbook shows patterns similar to college brochures in the USA, which may over-represent diversity overall but underrepresent its more controversial aspects. The results form the basis for a discussion of institutional constraints on beginning-level instructors and practical pedagogical strategies to problematize homogeneous cultural perceptions and the textbook itself.
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Textbook Bias

Textbooks are vehicles of ideology: “[T]he textbook … can be seen as an object for the spreading and legitimization of cultural hegemony” (Grawan, 2014, p. 12) and “can also contain indicators for racial distinctions” (ibid., p. 20) 3. Grawan sees racism as a “flexible symbolic resource” (ibid., p. 23) which confers power on the normative White discourse and identifies education as a major factor in its reproduction. In an analysis of German social studies textbooks, he illuminates the objectification, dramatization, and exoticization of “others” which are largely implicitly (rather than explicitly) identified by social positioning and outer appearance and finds that latent racism in the textbooks contributes to a normalization of cultural Whiteness and a positive valuation of assimilation. In a study of an English as a Second Language (ESL) textbook’s visual representations, Otlowski (2003) finds white and male bias linked to higher-valued occupations, higher spatial placement, stereotyping, and sometimes complete lack of representation. Taylor Mendes (2009) investigates Brazilian students’ and teachers’ perspectives on an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) textbook and summarizes (ibid., p. 76): “What does an American look like? The answer is simple: White, wealthy, powerful, isolated with members of their own race, and free of problems.” They note that the textbook does not so much represent culture but rather constructs culture on a white basis. Shardakova & Pavlenko (2004) find similar patterns in textbooks of Russian.

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