Researching the Spatial Dimension of Learner Autonomy

  • Garold Murray


This chapter proposes a new research direction into autonomy in language learning: an exploration of its spatial dimension. Based on a longitudinal ethnographic inquiry into a social learning space in a language centre in a Japanese university, a key assumption of the study is that how people define a space transforms it into a place, determines what they do there and influences their autonomy. Drawing on data from this five-year investigation, the findings suggest that researchers might draw on ecological approaches, complexity approaches and mediated discourse analysis. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the potential benefits of pursuing research that incorporates space, place and autonomy.


Autonomy Complexity Ecology Imagination Mediated discourse analysis Space and place Social learning spaces 



I would like to thank my research partners, Naomi Fujishima and Mariko Uzuka, for their invaluable contribution and support, without which the study discussed in this chapter would not have been possible. In turn, we three are grateful to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) [No. 23520674] which enabled us to extend our initial study for an additional four years.


  1. Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogical imagination. Austin, TX: University of Texas.Google Scholar
  2. Ben Said, S. (2011). Data triangulation as a resource in multilingual research: Examples from the linguistic landscape. In Proceedings of the international conference: Doing research in applied linguistics (pp. 62–70). Bangkok, Thailand: King Mongkut’s University of Technology.Google Scholar
  3. Ben Said, S., & Shegar, C. (2014). Compliance, negotiation, resistance in teachers’ spatial construction of professional identities. In S. Ben Said & L. Zhang (Eds.), Language teachers and teaching: Global perspectives, local initiatives (pp. 127–149). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Benson, P. (2011). Language learning and teaching beyond the classroom: An introduction to the field. In P. Benson & H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond the language classroom (pp. 132–145). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carter, E., Donald, J., & Squires, J. (1993). Space and place: Theories of identity and location. London: Lawrence and Wishart.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, L., Dörnyei, Z., & Henry, A. (2014). Learner archetypes and signature dynamics in the language classroom: A retrodictive qualitative modeling approach to studying L2 motivation. In Z. Dörnyei, P. D. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 238–259). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  7. Collier, A., Watson, W., & Ozuna, A. (2011, July). Classroom.Next: Engaging faculty and students in learning space design. Educause Learning Initiative. Retrieved from
  8. Cooker, L. (2013). “When I got a person to communicate with, I got a purpose to learn”: Evidence for social “modes of autonomy”. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 36(1), 28–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cresswell, T. (2004). Place: A short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, B., & Sumara, D. (2006). Complexity and education: Inquiries into learning, teaching, and research. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Dörnyei, Z. (2014). Researching complex dynamic systems: ‘Retrodictive qualitative modelling’ in the language classroom. Language Teaching, 47, 80–91.Google Scholar
  12. Dörnyei, Z., MacIntyre, P. D., & Henry, A. (2014). Motivational dynamics in language learning. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  13. Gee, J. P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From the age of mythology to today’s schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.), Beyond communities of practice: Language, power and social context (pp. 214–232). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  15. Harvey, D. (1996). Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  17. Irie, K., & Ryan, S. (2014). Study abroad and the dynamics of change in learner L2 self-concept. In Z. Dörnyei, P. D. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 343–366). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  18. Jaworski, A., & Thurlow, C. (2010). Introducing semiotic landscapes. In A. Jaworski & C. Thurlow (Eds.), Semiotic landscapes: Language, image, space (pp. 1–40). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  19. Jones, R. H., & Norris, S. (2005). Discourse as action/discourse in action. In S. Norris & R. H. Jones (Eds.), Discourse in action: Introducing mediated discourse analysis (pp. 3–14). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Kramsch, C. (Ed.). (2002). Language acquisition and language socialization: Ecological perspectives (pp. 1–30). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  21. Landry, R., & Bourhis, R. Y. (1997). Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality: An empirical study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16(1), 23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Larsen-Freeman, D. (2014). Ten ‘lessons’ from complex dynamic systems theory: What is on offer. In Z. Dörnyei, P. D. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 11–19). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  23. Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (trans: Nicholson-Smith, D.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Lemke, J. L. (2002). Language development and identity: Multiple timescales in the social ecology of learning. In C. Kramsch (Ed.), Language acquisition and language socialization: Ecological perspectives (pp. 68–87). London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  27. Lemke, J. L. (2005). Place, pace and meaning: Multimedia chronotopes. In S. Norris & R. H. Jones (Eds.), Discourse in action: Introducing mediated discourse analysis (pp. 110–122). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Little, D. (1991). Learner autonomy: Definitions, issues and problems. Dublin, Ireland: Authentik.Google Scholar
  29. Liu, W., Ji, J., Chen, H., & Ye, C. (2014). Optimal color design of psychological counseling room by design of experiments and response surface methodology. PLoS One, 9(3), e90646. Scholar
  30. Massey, D. (1997). A global sense of place. In T. Barnes & D. Gregory (Eds.), Readings in human geography (pp. 315–323). London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  31. Menezes, V. (2011). Affordances for language learning beyond the classroom. In P. Benson & H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond the language classroom (pp. 59–71). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Morin, E. (2008). On complexity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  33. Murray, G. (2013). Pedagogy of the possible: Imagination, autonomy, and space. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 3(3), 377–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Murray, G., & Fujishima, N. (2013). Social language learning spaces: Affordances in a community of learners. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 36(1), 141–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Murray, G., Fujushima, N., & Uzuka, M. (2014). Semiotics of place: Autonomy and space. In G. Murray (Ed.), Social dimensions of autonomy in language learning (pp. 81–99). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Murray, G., Fujushima, N., & Uzuka, M. (2018). Social learning spaces and ‘the invisible fence’. In G. Murray & T. Lamb (Eds.), Space, place and autonomy in language learning (pp. 233–246). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Read, M. A., Sugawara, I., & Brandt, J. A. (1999). Impact of space and color in the physical environment on preschool children’s cooperative behavior. Environment and Behavior, 31(3), 413–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scollon, R. (2001). Mediated discourse: The nexus of practice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (2004). Nexus analysis: Discourse and the emerging internet. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Shomany, E., & Gorter, D. (2009). Introduction. In E. Shohamy & D. Gorter (Eds.), Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery (pp. 1–10). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Tuan, Y.-F. (1977). Space and place: The perspective of experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  42. van Lier, L. (2004). The ecology and semiotics of language learning: A sociocultural perspective. Boston: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. van Note Chism, N. (2006). Challenging traditional assumptions and rethinking learning spaces. In D.G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces. Washington, DC: Educause. Retrieved from
  44. Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wilton, A., & Ludwig, C. (2018). Multilingual linguistic landscapes as a site for developing learner autonomy. In G. Murray & T. Lamb (Eds.), Space, place and autonomy in language learning (pp. 76–93). London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Garold Murray
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Liberal Arts and Language EducationOkayama UniversityOkayamaJapan

Personalised recommendations