Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research

This month we published Matthew T. Prior’s new book Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research. In this post, Matthew tells us a bit more about the emotional turn in second language research.

We seem to be forever turning. The discursive turn. The sociocultural turn. The identity turn. The critical turn. The narrative turn. These and other intersecting “turns” that have made their way across second language (L2) and multilingualism studies in recent decades have helped to promote greater recognition of L2 users as individuals and whole persons by encouraging sustained inquiry into their lived experiences with language and social belonging across the lifespan and across diverse spaces and borders. It is not surprising then, that researchers have found the recent emotional or affective turn sympathetic to the goal of accessing the personal and deeply felt dimensions of language learning and use and identity negotiation that may otherwise go unexamined or untold.

Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative ResearchEmotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research engages with this emotional territory by calling on researchers to more reflexively theorize and represent speakers’ past and present stories and selves through the lenses of data generation and self-presentation, not just data collection or giving voice. Emotionality (emotion in and as interaction) forms the theoretical and analytical heart of this book. Drawing largely on my own longitudinal narrative interview research with adult immigrants from Southeast Asia to the US and Canada, these chapters examine emotionality in relation to the identities that speakers take up and reject, the personal stories that they tell and avoid, and the ways in which those emotions, identities, stories and related matters get collaboratively built and managed over time within and even outside the research setting.

A reality is that researchers (and participants) are often unprepared for the emotional, psychological, ethical, moral, interpersonal and other consequences that arise from our often intimate and sustained research encounters. This book makes visible these various tensions as well as the personal and professional predicaments faced by researchers who desire, on the one hand, to empathetically connect with participants on a shared human level while, on the other, avoiding giving in to what some scholars have condemned as overly “emotionalist” or “romantic” perspectives.

The various tensions this book addresses include:

  • Discursive construction and deconstruction
  • Sexual identity and identification
  • Interview conflict and resistance
  • Managing trauma, distress and discomfort
  • Emotional danger and emotional contagion
  • Therapy-like aspects of interview research
  • Shifting story versions
  • Questioning and responding
  • “Visible” and “invisible” contexts
  • Superficial reflexivity

I am particularly proud with how this book illuminates interactants’ own concerns with emotion management and negative emotionality, while drawing inspiration from the work of Arlie Hochschild and studies on emotion regulation. It should also be noted that though this book highlights the prevalence of “negative” emotionality, there is also humor. For example, I have a section that discusses how an immigrant man from Vietnam used disco songs such as “I Will Survive” and “Stayin’ Alive” to humorously transform and perform some of his traumatic experiences. This material almost did not make it into the book, but I am glad it did because it offers another representational layer to the analysis.

This book should appeal to a wide readership. In addition to contributing to research theory and method, its discursive constructionist approach is relevant to those interested in discourse, interaction, interview and narrative by examining various linguistic and other semiotic resources used in generating and responding to emotionality surrounding autobiographical talk. Identity scholars will appreciate the attention to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, immigration, citizenship, native/non-native speaker binaries and other contested aspects of contemporary selfhood. Those interested in psychological matters will find the frames of emotionality, mental health and specific emotions (e.g. anger, fear, shame), along with its interconnections with psychology and counseling, useful for better understanding transcultural identities and sensemaking practices.

If you would like more information about the book please see our website or contact Matthew directly at the email address below.

Matthew T. Prior, Arizona State University, matthew.prior@asu.edu

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