This year the annual EuroSLA conference took place in the beautiful university city of Lund, in southern Sweden. With temperatures unseasonably high and the sun shining, around 300 delegates descended on the city for a busy few days at the conference.
The opening keynote was given in sign language, with a spoken recording, by Krister Schönström. He discussed why sign language research may be interesting to SLA researchers and vice versa and questioned if learning a second language in the visual modality, such as a sign language, is the same as learning a spoken second language. The ensuing keynotes, by Rob Schoonen, who spoke about language learners’ ability and measurement, and Lourdes Ortega, who gave us an overview of important research to-date, before stressing the need for a reatunement from traditional contexts to embrace equitable multilingualism in diverse contexts, also provoked much conversation and discussion among delegates during the coffee breaks and social activities. The conference was finally drawn to a close by Minna Lehtonen who spoke about the effect of learning and experience on the neurocognitive systems of bilinguals and balanced bilinguals.
Outside the conference 9-5, delegates were treated to a drinks reception at the university’s main hall, which is locally nicknamed ‘The White House’ due to its prominent stature and, of course, white walls. The conference dinner on the Friday night was in an equally impressive building, the Skissernas Museum, in which we enjoyed a tasty Smörgåsbord while seated among the colourful artwork and under a brightly lit mirrored ceiling.
Next year’s EuroSLA conference is the 30th anniversary meeting and will take place in Barcelona in early July. We are looking forward to it already!
Earlier this month, I travelled to the small Polish mountain resort of Szczyrk at which the annual ICFSLA conference takes place. As usual (or so it seems!) delegates were welcomed with cold rain, which made a dramatic change from the glorious weather that the UK was enjoying.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘translanguaging’, a topic which has sparked much interest and debate recently and these conversations were continued at the conference. The conference was opened by Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge who introduced the audience to the research that they have been undertaking on translanguaging in Birmingham. We listened to speech of a member of staff serving a visitor at Birmingham Library and a mother and daughter in a home setting, which were both insightful and charming. They spoke about what can be learnt from ethnography for education and rounded up by speaking about the implications such research can have on classrooms, such as designing curriculum with changeability and unpredictability in mind, the social responsibilities of teachers and teacher development and making the school a welcoming environment.
David Singleton then provided his theoretical perspective on the term and spoke about the importance of context, the purpose of the researcher and thinking about language in the broad, macro sense and also at the individual particle level. Thereafter followed a discussion between the plenary speakers of the day and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives on the topic, as it was approached from both sociolinguistic and language acquisition backgrounds. We were left with the thought that lots of interesting work is currently being undertaken but that more empirical research is needed in different contexts and settings, from traditional classrooms to endangered language settings and out in the community.
Simone E. Pfenninger opened the second day with her plenary in which she spoke about random and non-random data and complexity and presented both the appeal and criticism of the topic. She followed this by introducing us to her latest study on age and immersion in Swiss schools and the quantitative and qualitative data that she has collected and is analysing. David Lasagabaster followed up with his presentation on CLIL in the Basque Country. His discussion groups in schools revealed that teachers and senior leadership initially wished to maintain a strong ‘English only’ policy and had a negative attitude to the use of other languages in the classroom, however later on in the study they acknowledged that flexibility was important and experience led to a change in this stance. He then moved on to discuss his new research which looks at whether beliefs, attitudes and realities in universities are similar to those found in schools.
The final plenary was given by Eva Vetter who started with an interactional activity during which we completed a survey on our phones and the results were posted live onto the screen. It was the first time that I had witnessed this use of technology and I found it to be an excellent way to engage and involve the audience. In the final question we were asked which words come to mind when we think of translanguaging and our input was summarised on the screen in the form of a word cloud, with the words multilingualism and communication being the biggest features.
And then, finally, before it was time to go home, the sun came out and we enjoyed a gloriously sunny end to the conference. I even had the opportunity to go up the mountain in the famous cable car, something that has become a bit of an office myth as we have never had weather good enough on previous conference trips!
The conference started for me with the pre-conference meeting of the Young Learners SIG at which Janet Enever, series editor for our Early Language Learning in School Contexts (ELLSC) series, gave the opening keynote. Her talk was entitled ‘21st Century ELT for 3 to 10-year olds’ and she tackled many current issues in working and researching with young language learners, such as the age factor, assessment and native/non-native speaker teachers. She stressed the importance of making sure that the conditions are right to ensure the development of language proficiency in children. Among the other speakers of the day was Shelagh Rixon, one of the editors of our forthcoming book Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching Practice, who presented her work with her colleague Amanda Davies: ‘Primary learning: borrowing the best from ELT and the mainstream’.
Another of our series editors, Sarah Mercer, who, together with Stephen Ryan, oversees our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT) series, was also present at the conference. Her latest book Language Teacher Psychology (edited with Achilleas Kostoulas) was very popular with the delegates, as was her older title Positive Psychology in SLA(edited with Peter D. MacIntyre and Tammy Gregersen). The second book in this new PLLT series Visualising Multilingual Lives (edited by Paula Kalaja and Silvia Melo-Pfeifer) was published just last month and was also a real hit. Many delegates found not only the content very appealing but also appreciated the full colour printing throughout the book.
The conference was held in the Liverpool Arena, which was totally transformed and unrecognisable from when I last came to it, to watch England play an international netball match. It was funny to be in the same venue with our books! The arena is situated on the waterfront and I enjoyed walking every morning along the docks, despite the blistering cold and wind. The docks are also home to Liverpool’s Three Graces and many museums, the Tate gallery and plenty of restaurants and cafes. Luckily I had some free time before I left the city and my favourite visit was to the Open Eye Gallery, where there is a striking exhibition of portraits of female UK MPs. Liverpool is certainly somewhere I’d like to return to for a holiday.
I recently attended the Language, Identity and Education in Multilingual Contexts conference in York. The papers at the conference considered all aspects of the linguistic and sociolinguistic competences and practices of bi-/multilingual speakers and the keynote addresses were given by Simone E. Pfenninger, Andrea Young and David Singleton.
Simone Pfenninger highlighted to the audience that older learners are among the least studied groups, yet they are also one of the fastest growing as societies are changing and ageing. She discussed how the profile of older learners is also changing as there are increasing numbers of older, new migrants; increasing numbers of migrants ageing in their ‘new’ country and increasing numbers of healthy older adults who are taking on new (language learning) challenges. She talked about the extent to which research on older language learners has been successful thus far and where it might go in the future.
Next, Andrea Young presented her work with emergent bilinguals and spoke about how deficit discourse is still common in French schools, where terminology such as ‘non francophone’ is widely used rather than the more positive term ‘emergent bilingual’. She discussed translanguaging and how it can be used as an inclusive pedagogical tool; we watched a number of insightful videos which showed that when a teacher makes an effort with the child’s mother tongue, the child is inspired to make an effort to learn French.
David Singleton, who stepped in at the last minute due to another speaker pulling out because of illness, also touched on the topic of translanguaging and shared his opinion that it can be a positive pedagogical tool but that the term is too widely used in other contexts. His talk was followed by several interesting questions and some discussion on the topic. After the morning sessions it was no surprise that our books on translanguaging were keenly sought out!
I spent the rest of the conference selling books and attending a range of interesting sessions. Local Bristol author and series editor, Jane Andrews, presented the research that she is undertaking together with Maryam Almohammad on using visual arts and crafts to support creative welcoming. They explored issues of language, identity and belonging within communities and explained to us how they are taking a new materialistic approach to their applied linguistics research.
Another memorable session was that of Anita Bright who presented an interesting and interactive talk about ‘trigger words’. These are words that we may use in our everyday speech without perhaps thinking about the background to these words, their connotations and the reaction that they may provoke in the listener. She situated her talk in research on language power and prestige and encouraged us to think about the language we use in educational settings. One example we discussed was that of the word ‘master’ often used in educational settings in terms such as the ‘master timetable’ or the ‘master copy’ but how this term has connotations of gender and slavery.
Aside from the interesting conference, the city of York was a fantastic destination for a conference and I enjoyed wandering the medieval snickelways of the city and eating local fare, especially Yorkshire rhubarb and parkin.
Earlier this month Laura and Tommi headed to Germany for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. As a company we’ve been going to the fair for nearly 40 years and those who attend are well-versed in the Frankfurt experience. With that in mind, Laura has put together a Top 10 “best of” from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.
Best Part of the Drive
In recent years we have opted to drive down to Frankfurt, which doesn’t take as long as it seems like it might! The highlight of the trip is always the final section where we drive through the beautiful Rhine valley between Koblenz and Rüdesheim. The river is beautiful, the leaves are often just starting to turn into bright autumn colours and we always stop for some tasty goulash soup. We arrive in Frankfurt fresh and ready for the busy week ahead.
Most Interesting New Contact
We’ve long done business with the library supplier Starkmann who supply academic books to libraries mainly in Europe. However, we’d not met them in person until this year. We were delighted to meet with their Managing Director, Bernard Starkmann, and discover the uncanny similarities between our two companies: both were founded in the 1970s, passed from father to son management at around the same time and have bilingual managing directors. We were also very impressed that Bernard immediately recognised the artwork on the front of our new Multilingual Matters 2018/19 catalogue.
Most Established Contact
The Frankfurt Book Fair is a time for catching up with business contacts both long-standing, new and somewhere inbetween! There are many contenders for this section but a shout-out is definitely needed for John Benjamins, a fellow publisher of academic books on applied linguistics. Every year we stop by their stand and share a drink and a catch up with Seline Benjamins and her colleagues. Like us, their staff turnover is very low (once you find a good job in publishing you know not to leave it!) so it is nice to know that there will always be familiar friendly faces at their stand.
Noisiest Drinks Reception
Most evenings there are drinks receptions in the halls of the Frankfurt Book Fair which might take place when presses are launching new books, celebrating an anniversary or just having a sociable get together. As members of the Independent Publishers’ Guild, we tend to go to their reception which this year was in collaboration with the Australian Publishers’ Association. As we approached there seemed to be a noisier than usual hubbub and we were intrigued. On arrival we discovered that rather than ordering 24 crates of beer, the Australians had actually ordered just 24 bottles! You can imagine the outrage among tired and thirsty publishers. Luckily the order was rectified later in the evening and crates arrived to much cheer!
Most Exciting New Project
The Frankfurt Book Fair is an excellent opportunity to meet with like-minded publishers and to discuss the latest happenings and challenges surrounding academic publishing. This year we have been working hard to draw attention to the importance of rigorous peer review and are now working together with fellow university and academic publishers to create a way of recognising the high standards to which presses like ours adhere. The intention is to announce further details in January so watch this space!
Hotel prices in Frankfurt are astronomical during the book fair, so we stay in the village of Eschborn just a stone’s throw from the city. Over the years we have eaten our way round most of the eateries in Eschborn and one has emerged as our real favourite – a Croatian/German restaurant called Dalmatia. They have delicious classic German dishes such as Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel (sometimes with a Croatian twist) and always have seasonal Pfifferlinge (mushrooms) on the menu. However, this year Laura was mortified to see that the small portion of Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) that she ordered was marked on the bill as “Seniorenteller” (old person’s plate)!
Most Memorable Quote
The Frankfurt Book Fair is sometimes a time for hearing about changes in the trade (such as acquisitions, mergers and movements of staff). Speaking to one exhibitor who has recently returned to independent publishing following a spell at a corporate company was quite telling. They said that corporate companies over-train you, overpay you and underwhelm you. That may only be a small snippet from one experience but it certainly made us even more proud of our independence.
Most Popular Book
This year we published Speaking Up by Allyson Jule which is an accessible book on understanding language and gender. The book has been written with a broader audience in mind than that of our academic books which tend to have a market specific to those working in the education or tourism spheres. The academic books were certainly as popular as ever with our traditional bookselling contacts but Allyson Jule’s new book really caught the eye of the general public when the doors were opened to them at the weekend.
Most Entertaining Story
Alongside the business side of the book fair, there is plenty of catching up between publishers and contacts and sharing of stories and gossip. Mari Bergamon from EBSCO, one of our library ebook providers, said that she believes that tragedy + time = comedy. The next day we heard the story that a children’s book publisher recently had to retract a publication in which they’d listed their website with xxx in place of the real web address, meaning to fill in the correct details before press. Unfortunately, the publication went to print before they updated the link and they very quickly had to withdraw the material when they realised readers were being directed to an x-rated website! I wonder how long it will be until that is looked back on as comedy!
Most Meetings of the Fair
By the end of the fair we had attended 31 meetings, plus had numerous impromptu conversations with customers, contacts and publishers both at our stands and at various receptions. We were very happy to spend our Saturday evening with our author Greg Poarch and his family who cooked us an absolutely delicious dinner, certainly a rival to any restaurant food we’ve had this week. As much as we enjoy the fair, it is really nice to have a local contact and to spend some time talking about topics other than publishing. We hope that we were not too jaded company! Greg’s son Loic is hoping to come to Bristol in January to do some work experience with us and we are really looking forward to taking our turn at hosting.
For those that have never been to Frankfurt Book Fair and wonder what it’s like, last year Laura and Tommi filmed every aisle of every hall! Here’s the resultant video:
This autumn, the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses is due to take place. Multilingual Matters is sponsoring the conference, specifically in order to enable two early career researchers from developing countries to attend it. This post is written by one of the organisers, Shi-xu of Hangzhou Normal University, China.
With the rapid advancement in communication, commerce and travel, our world has become smaller and people more interconnected. However, this has not meant that the global village is safer, more stable, or more harmonious, but more alienated, more volatile and more unpredictable. Even after three West-East wars of the past century, hot and cold, the old wisdom of dividing up mankind into good and evil and then retaining absolute hegemony remains as alive as ever and coercion continues to hold the day. At the same time, however, that familiar, traditional order is being tipped as non-Western powers and alliances emerge and spread. In the new century we find ourselves yet again at the crossroads of war and peace, repression and development, or more.
For scholars and students of Cultural Discourse Studies (CDS), to which this conference and the affiliated journal are devoted, the current human-cultural predicament is a big challenge, but it is also an opportunity. It is a big challenge because mainstream Communication Studies (CS, including studies of language, literature, rhetoric, media and discourse) insists on a Westcentric stance and ignores cultural diversity and obscure cultural division. It is also an opportunity because CDS is equipped with not only the determination but also the tools to help change the changing world.
The chosen and enduring objectives of CDS are: (1) to undermine and subvert ethnocentrism in CS, (2) to construct culturally conscious, critical and creative paradigms of human communication that are capable of facilitating the advancement of relevant cultural discourses, and (3) to firm up a truly culturally inclusive CS scholarship that is conducive to building a harmonious, pluralist and free world.
CDS’ strategic goals, under the turbulent circumstances just alluded to, call for urgent and specific tasks to be taken up. One is to expand and consolidate the existing international community of scholars and students of diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds who are culturally conscious, critical and creative and committed to helping reform CS towards a more diversified and egalitarian scholarship. Another is for this breed of researchers to utilize effective platforms and channels to discuss, formulate and promulgate a common vision for human communication and to invent practical ways to reach that consensus. Still another is to continue efforts to establish and improve relevant frameworks of cultural discourses in order to critically study and to guide particular practices. Yet another is to expose and subvert culturally divisive, discriminatory and domineering discourses on the one hand and to discover and promote culturally inclusive, dialogical and harmonious ones on the other hand.
This year’s annual EuroSLA conference took place earlier this month in the historical cathedral city of Münster in Germany. As usual, it was a very lively conference with a packed academic and social programme, providing plenty of opportunities for discussion, conversation, sharing ideas and meeting with delegates, both familiar and new.
Books in our SLA series are always popular with the delegates and this year I was really pleased to have the brand-new book Mind Matters in SLA (edited by Clare Wright, Thorsten Piske and Martha Young-Scholten) on the stand. Many thanks to Sarah, our Head of Production, and Short Run Press, the printer, for getting copies to the office in time for me to bring to EuroSLA in my suitcase! As the book has not yet arrived at our warehouse it is not yet officially published, so delegates (and contributors to the book) were excited to be holding the book ahead of the official publication date!
During the quiet moments between breaks I was able to attend a number of sessions and some of the keynotes. A notable highlight for me was Raphaele Berthele’s keynote speech, titled ‘Policy recommendations for language learning: Linguists’ contributions between scholarly debates and pseudoscience’. It was an extremely engaging talk during which he skilfully used humour and personal examples to discuss the important questions surrounding the role of researchers in policy recommendations; the kind of research that can potentially inform policy and what researchers should know before they give recommendations.
That keynote was followed by the opening conference drinks reception which took place in the festival hall within the city’s town hall. As well as enjoying refreshments in the historic building, we were also able to visit the Friedenssaal (Peace hall), where treaties were signed to end the Thirty Years’ War and Eighty Years’ War in 1648. I enjoyed hearing the stories surrounding some of the engravings in the hall including one about a captured village where the captors permitted the women of the village to flee, carrying their one most important belonging. What they didn’t realise was what the women would choose…the engraving showed women carrying their husband prisoners from the village!
There was also a lively conference dinner beside Münster’s city lake and I enjoyed spending my afternoon off before travelling home pottering around the large biweekly farmers’ market on the city square, visiting the city museum and wandering round the cobbled streets, as well as sampling local food and drink of course!
This June, the third Psychology of Language Learning (PLL3) conference took place at Waseda University, Japan. Japan is one of our biggest markets and a country that we try and visit every few years in order to stay in touch with what’s happening in the Japanese academic book sector. PLL3 therefore gave me the perfect excuse to make my first trip over. As I have recently moved into my new job as Head of Sales, I am keen to learn all about the different markets in which we sell our books, how they differ and the challenges and prospects for each one. I structured my trip with the first part comprising sales meetings, and the conference making up the final (but by no means lesser!) few days.
The first part of the trip provided an ideal opportunity for me to meet our key contacts, ask zillions of questions and to get the kind of understanding of the market that it is impossible to do by email from our office in Bristol. As with several territories, we have a local Japanese rep, Koro, who looks after our key accounts on a day-to-day basis. Having been emailing Koro for the past 8 years, it was great to finally put a face and a personality to an email address. Koro arranged numerous visits for me during my stay, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and was a fantastic source of knowledge of the market. We also bonded over a love of music and fresh air and not panicking when we couldn’t find the right building for a meeting (Japanese maps are a complete mystery to me)!
We met with booksellers (including our biggest customers Kinokuniya, Maruzen and MHM), librarians, academics and subject specialists, in both linguistics and tourism studies. We have a number of exciting titles which were of specific interest to the contacts, most notably the forthcoming book on akogare (desire) by Japanese author Chisato Nonaka and the recently published 3rd edition of Sport Tourism Development which sparked interested because of the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. As well as meetings by day, we went out for drinks and dinner with a number of our contacts, at which I learnt a lot about Japanese culture, food and alcohol!
After the sales part of my trip, I took a day off to reset my brain from sales to editorial work and to enjoy the sights of Tokyo. Sadly, it was a wet break (the rainy season had just begun), but as I had been fortunate enough to enjoy some sunshine the previous weekend, I was not too disheartened to have to spend the day browsing cookware shops on the famous Kappabashi Street and enjoying tea and cake in various tea shops when I needed a break from the torrential downpours!
The PLL conference is now in its third meeting and I am fortunate to have been able to attend all three (you can also read about previous conferences in Graz and Jyväskylä on our blog) and to see the event evolve and thrive over time. This year, Waseda University welcomed 375 delegates from both across Japan and around the world. Stephen Ryan and his colleagues and students meticulously organised and hosted a conference that both lived up to and went beyond previous editions.
Among the highlights of the gathering were the plenaries which were always packed and stimulating. Richard Ryan opened the conference with a talk on self-determination theory and Ema Ushioda ended the first day with a thought-provoking talk questioning the social purpose of academic research. The plenaries of the second day saw Mimi Bong introduce her work on achievement goals and Lourdes Ortega asked how the field of PLL can address issues of social justice. On the final morning, Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a rousing introduction to the closing speaker, Zoltan Dornyei, who focused on the topic of perseverance within the domain of motivation. The final slot is always a tough one (especially the morning after the conference dinner!) but it certainly enthused and engaged delegates who hung around in the entrance foyer long after the conference was officially over.
The conference was also a good platform for the new IAPLL association to be launched and for delegates to hear more about the benefits of membership. With the new association and another successful conference gone by, the stage is now set for the continued development of this subsection of the field and I am already looking forward to PLL4, which is due to take place in June 2020 in Canada.
Most of our bookshop sales are via specialist stores and campus bookshops, where an interested reader is most likely to be browsing. We have always managed these accounts in-house, by sending out catalogues, information sheets and book information to the relevant buyers, and they have mostly ticked along without a great deal of internal involvement. High street book sales are rare as very few of our titles would be picked off the shelves by a casual shopper.
This summer we are publishing Speaking Up by Allyson Jule which is a book about language and gender that has mainstream audience unlike most of our publications which are aimed solely at academic researchers. To reach this audience, we need to ensure that the book gets visibility outside of the academic book trade. It is clear that we would not realise the book’s full market potential if we followed our standard marketing and sales procedures for our academic titles. So, from a marketing perspective, we have enlisted the services of an external PR consultant whose experience will get coverage for the book that might not have been possible by our own efforts alone. From a sales perspective, it is obvious that bookshop presence will be key.
This sparked a discussion about whether it would be sensible for us to take on the services of an external sales force, not just for this title but for all our books. This is something that we do in territories abroad, but we have always managed local relationships ourselves. Making the decision about whether to start such a partnership was not an easy one. Obviously, there are costs involved and the work of the reps needs to bring in enough extra sales to cover the expense of working with them. We had to assess whether there was enough of a market out there that we aren’t able to reach ourselves and if we are better outsourcing efforts to target this market rather than trying to reach the readers ourselves.
On balance we felt that there is more scope for bookshop sales for our books in the UK, especially for books such as those we publish on bilingualism for parents and teachers, and that the benefits had the potential to far outweigh the arguments against. As such, we are excited to now be working with Compass Academic and to make the most of their expertise and experience in the book trade.
Compass Academic is a team of book reps who call on bookshops, library suppliers, wholesalers and internet booksellers, and maintain relationships with all the key bookselling chains. They will now be taking information about our books to their meetings and will be actively promoting them to both existing and new customers on our behalf. The team will be covering a far broader range of booksellers than we could ever manage ourselves and have longstanding relationships with many of their contacts.
Just as importantly as presenting information about our books to booksellers, Compass will also give us regular market feedback on what is happening in the UK trade market in general and news from specific booksellers. This valuable information will help us better plan our publishing program and respond to developments in the industry.
The publication of Speaking Up was certainly the spark that made us take the leap but we are hopeful that the new partnership will benefit all our publications, across both our imprints.
One of the intriguing things I keep hearing from people who are active on social media is that they use an alias there, because the use of their real name would prevent them from ‘being myself’. This always triggers a critical question from me: isn’t your real name part of your core identity? And how can you really be yourself when you avoid using that absolute and primary identity label of yours – your real name?
While the point might seem trivial to some, it is quite a challenge to widespread perceptions of what it is to be ‘real’. In his classic Seeing Like a State, James Scott explained at great length how important the use of fixed and structured personal names was for the emerging nation-states of Modernity. The names we got (often somewhere in the 18th-19th century) became the alpha and omega of the bureaucratic system of governance: when a name could be conclusively stuck on an individual, that individual was ‘known’ and could be treated as a subject with rights, entitlements, duties and obligations derived from bureaucratically administered laws and rules. We carry our names, consequently, on a range of identity documents: passport, social security or health insurance card, driver’s licence, staff card, library card, and so forth; we write and read our names on the top of thousands of official documents that regulate our everyday lives. Why? Because our names identify us as real, as really existing persons that can be identified, held responsible, involved or excluded from social and political processes. In view of that, avoiding using your real name, hiding it from others or giving a false name when asked for it, is strongly associated with deviance, abnormality, transgression and crime.
On social media, however, the practice is widespread. Very large numbers of otherwise decent and upstanding citizens operate ‘undercover’, if you wish, hiding behind the mask of a bogus name and arguing that it is this mask that enables them to be ‘real’ in interactions with others on social media. It shows us how different the rules and codes of social media interaction are, and how these technologies have shaped a different area of social action operating alongside those of the ‘real’ world of nation-state bureaucratic and social life.
The people I know and had the occasion to talk to about this practice argued that an alias grants them a modicum of freedom of speech on social media. In that sense, it offered them some degree of freedom to speak freely, without the obstacles and restrictions generated by offline life. Their real names, as said above, connect them to the rights and entitlements, but also the restrictions of offline existence, and such restrictions might be compelling. Their employers, for instance, might not be amused by some of the Tweets posted by known employees; such expressions of individual opinion and subjectivity could get them into trouble with political patrons, relatives or other members of the offline communities in which they function. The structures of their ‘real’ offline social existence, in short, prevent them from speaking freely in the public sphere generated by social media.
The use of an alias, thus, is usually an effect of conscious and calibrated decisions in which the opportunities of the online public culture are weighed against the conventional restrictions of offline public culture. Different sets of norms and codes of conduct are measured against each other, and the conclusion for these people is that you can only be uniquely and really yourself on social media when you delete or mask your real name – when you become someone else or remain an anonymous voice, in other words.
I see this as part of ‘the care of the selfie’. We are familiar with the argument developed by a range of scholars, from Foucault to Goffman, that our social existence in Modernity is dependent on large and infinitely detailed sets of norms and regulations for impression management, aimed at appearing as a ‘normal’ subject in the eyes of others. These norms and regulations are socially sanctioned, and all of us are invited to internalize and incorporate them through self-regulation and self-censorship – the things Foucault called ‘the care of the self’. What the use of aliases on social media demonstrates, I think, is how this offline care of the self is now complemented by similar sets of norms and regulations governing our online social lives. The use of aliases, along with a range of other practices, is part of a constructed ‘selfie’, an identity designed solely for online presence.
When meticulously constructed, maintained and applied, this selfie offers us the pleasures of aspects of social life not attainable elsewhere. Or, if you wish, it offers us membership into a community culture that runs in conjunction with the cultures of offline communities but can no longer be detached from it. Which is why we can be truly ourselves there in very different ways from those we practice elsewhere.
You can read more about the themes of the conference in this post on our blog.