(from the beginning of my Critical Language Awareness course notes by Hilary Janks from South Africa)
Critical Language Awareness (CLA) is an approach to language teaching
based on a critical sociocultural theory of language and critical discourse analysis.
This theory argues that the use of language is a form of social practice and that
all social practices are embedded in specific sociohistorical contexts where
existing social relations are reproduced or contested and where different interests
are served. CLA is particularly concerned with the relationship between
language and power — with the way discourse is policed (Foucault, 1970: 120);
with the way variety in language is suppressed and unity emphasised (Bourdieu,
1991); with the way all discourse is positioned in the struggle to represent
(re-present) different versions of the world as legitimate (Fairclough, 1989, 1995);
with the power of discourse to construct subjectivity (Gee, 1990).
If I was forced to summarise I would say: Critical Literacy is about empowering students to see where power lies in the text and who has/has not a voice in the text. It's about understanding how language is used to persuade and conscript us to various causes. It is essential for a populace of a democracy to have a critical understanding of language if they are to be more than pawns in the game of electoral cycles.