Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated

This month we published Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang. In this post the editors explain how the book came together.

Zoom and Teams are wonderful for communication, but, alas, they cannot make up for real encounters with new and inspiring colleagues at international conferences. This book is the results of such a get-together. As Norwegian researchers in the field of second language learning and use, we have long been concerned with how some groups of students struggle to satisfy the requirements of language mastery in the new country, particular when it comes to writing. How great then to meet and get to know researchers from other corners of the world having the same concerns! Two of us met at the 14th Symposium on Second Language Writing in Auckland, New Zealand in 2015 and then three of us incidentally met again in 2017 at the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Portland, USA.

We all wondered if the experiences some groups of students had from their prior schooling with writing texts did not match the expected way of writing in the new language or in the new areas of study. Do the language tests they have to take function as strict gatekeeping with borders too difficult to cross or bars too high to jump? For us this was a question of social justice and we saw the task of teachers and researchers as a two-front struggle: On one front, scholars should critically examine testing regimes and raise public awareness about the hidden agendas implicit in language tests. On the other front, scholars should develop research-based knowledge about tests and testing practices, including concealed or unconscious norms as well as raters’ bias, so that institutions of adult education, schools and universities can better prepare learners for the tests they are required to take. We decided to address these questions at the next Sociolinguistic Symposium, which happened to be in Auckland the year after. This is where this book started, at the colloquium in Auckland in 2018. Now it is out. Zoom and Teams would not have been able to initiate this.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Languaging Myths and Realities by Qianqian Zhang-Wu.

Academic Writing and Hip Hop Writin

We recently published Transcultural Voices by Jaspal Naveel Singh. In this post the author discusses the importance of challenging normative academic writing conventions.

Academics have a peculiar relationship to writing. Many of us have learnt how to read and write incredibly complex and dense sentences and paragraphs that contain jargon only an esoteric in-group of disciplinary peers can understand. Many of us perpetuate such enigmatic conventions once we become teachers, reviewers and editors. The result is that our books become impenetrable and miss having an impact among non-academic readers as well as among the people who we represent in our books.

My first monograph Transcultural Voices: Narrating Hip Hop Culture in Complex Delhi is no exception to such academic conventions. I wrote in a scholarly way, in a way that I hope emulates the style of the books that have influenced me: you will find complex theorisations, detailed description and painstakingly hyper-reflexive analyses. I deployed such overly intellectualised strategies of writing to gain recognition among my academic peers and to eventually extract cultural as well as financial capital from the academic community. To an extent, my strategy has worked. I can now say that I have a book, several journal articles and chapters in volumes, and, perhaps most importantly, a well-paid academic job. It seems that my competence to write like an academic is helping me to make a name for myself in the international field of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, linguistic ethnography, applied linguistics and global hip hop studies.

Yet the hip hop dancers, musicians and artists from Delhi, many of them young migrant men of which only a few could afford to enter higher education, whose stories feature in my book, often complained to me that they were not able to understand what I wrote about them. Before publishing this book, I reached out to my participants in Delhi and asked them to read my drafts and tell me how they felt about my writing. Did I represent them, their stories and their communities accurately and appropriately? Most participants replied saying that they had tried to read what I wrote but soon gave up. They were not able to follow my arguments because my writing was too difficult, too academic and entirely different from how we interacted verbally during our interviews and interactions in Delhi in 2013. Most were supportive and kind enough and allowed me to publish my analyses of their narratives nevertheless. But their honest feedback left me confused and even embittered about the conventions of academic writing. Why am I writing this, if the people I am writing about cannot get anything out of it?

This question accompanied me while writing Transcultural Voices over the course of almost a decade. This question helped me to ground my writing when it went flying high as a kite into the jargonistic clouds that hang over our ivory towers. As readers of my book will find out, I was not always (some might say, hardly ever) successful in making myself understandable to a general audience (some might say, not even to an expert audience), and this is fine by me. I never wanted to dumb down or simplify the complexities of the sociolinguistic processes that shape the globalisation of countercultural movements like hip hop. Yet, readers who bear with me through these pages, will find several moments in my writing in which I break with academic writing conventions, sometimes subtly and perhaps only recognisable for hip hop cultural insiders, sometimes more dramatically and hopefully recognisable for all readers.

My textual experiments in this book are inspired by the long and rich, yet largely invisible and misrecognised, tradition of writin in hip hop culture: writin graffiti, writin rap lyrics and writin history. These are all fundamental literacies that hip hop cultural practitioners engage with and develop on a daily basis. Writin about and for hip hop, or what James Spady has called hiphopography, I believe requires us to challenge normative academic writing conventions and depart from conformity to mainstream ideas of what constitutes so-called appropriate literacies. I hope readers of my book can get a sense of what it means to write hiphopographically and perhaps apply similar strategies in their own writing, whatever and whoever this writing is about.

Jaspal Naveel Singh

For more information about this book, please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization edited by Tyler Andrew Barrett and Sender Dovchin.

Academia and Academic Writing Need Liberating

This month we published Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps, the first book in our new series Writing Without Borders. In this post Alison explains how the idea for the book came about.

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

― Lilla Watson

‘You have to write a book about this.’ ‘When are you writing the book about this?’ If I had a penny for every time someone said this I’d be a very rich woman.

The last 15 years of my life have been spent gradually shifting a life lived predominantly with those in the metaphorical global north, to being predominantly surrounded by those in the global south. My family is a family of refugees, not everyone, but a large number these days. My work as an academic, advocate, activist and artist all revolves around themes of refuge, and the stories of what it means to live as a refugee or to have had your homeland destroyed or taken away or threatened by violent or powerful, oppressive forces. This means there are people in my office and conversations in my phone and email and social media everyday, asking me for accompaniment, advice, support. Every hour there is an interruption, a need to react, regroup, pause, and precious little time to think.

But writing, of course, is thinking, and it can be freedom. And the more the pressure to write a book about my worklife/lifework has grown, the clearer it became to me that this could not and would not be within the usual genre of an academic monograph or journal articles. Raymond Williams says that ‘Form always has an active material base.’ It’s no accident that the long novel was born with the creation of the bourgeois and the first really partially leisured, educated class, with the time, and therefore means, to read. The new forms in this age of social media are the tweet, the blog, the image, the Facebook post. These ways of micro-journaling and sharing have stood in for me, for a while, as a proxy for carving out the time and energy to write that ‘academic monograph’. As the 2015 crisis of hospitality hit Europe and people from Syria, especially, began crossing the Mediterranean, the pressure to write grew considerably, and I found myself developing the form of the essay, the newspaper article, and poetry, out of the social journaling.

‘You should write a book.’

For a while I’ve been referring to these present times as structurally similar to times of war. My poetry anthology, published last year with Tawona Sitholé, The Warriors Who Do Not Fight, contains the refrain ‘It is war time’, over and over as a way of prompting the poet and reader to remember that things are not as they were. That whilst the bodies may not be piling up in our own country, they are piling up where people are seeking sanctuary, and on those journeys of flight. And if you live your life with people who have suffered war and oppression and have sought refuge in other lands, then the aftermath and enduring consequences bring the consequences of war and the necessities of peace-making actions very much to your own shore. And in war time the forms which have emerged in the past are essays, pamphlets, poetry, play scripts. I have found myself defending my lack of a monograph by saying ‘There are not times for the luxury of the long book. Those are for peace time work, when we can think without a gun to our heads.’

I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to Anna Roderick at Multilingual Matters about this feeling and the suggestion that a short book series might be formed. She was open, willing and pointed to many early career researchers wanting more subjective, autoethnographic and creative ways of writing which would reflect their subjective, autoethnographic and increasingly creative ways of undertaking research. To this I added the work I’d been doing, before it became the trend in academic discourse, on decolonising research. It’s hard to be serious about any form of indigenous studies without being serious about decolonising research.

What would decolonial forms look like, which also reflected the urgencies of the times and the material and affective realities of the relationships from which ‘fieldwork’ is born? Anna invited me to answer my own question and this short book is my answer.

Alison reading from her book at the SOLAS festival

The experience has been liberating. Liberating from the metricised yet utterly outdated forms of assessment which represent the Research Excellence Framework; liberating as it gives me something I know I can share with participants without it being so necessarily long winded and academic that only someone with a doctoral training can access the text; liberating as I could bring my creative writing and essay and journalistic modes to bear; liberating because I could still work theoretically and think with the page; liberating because I could cite beyond the frameworks of my training; liberating because I could walk right over borders set for me when I first began becoming a researcher.

The quotation from Lilla Watson is one I return to regularly to check in with myself and those I am working with, to guard against the assumptions of ‘helping’ and ‘needing to save’. And to guard against the perpetuation of too many colonial habits, though these cannot be entirely erased from a life lived under colonial, imperial assumptions. But in writing this piece for Multilingual Matters, who have graciously published my work for nearly 20 years, I realise that this is something they have done for me. Academia and academic writing needs liberating. And there are some very exciting manuscripts forthcoming on their list. Writing Without Borders as a series is a way, perhaps small and not the on the global scale we might expect, of mutually liberating work, by working together on something a bit different, but of its time.

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”


Here’s an extract from the book, read by Alison:

For more information about this book please see our website. Alison will be donating all royalties earned from the book to the Scottish Refugee Council and Forest Peoples Programmes

New Books on Academic Writing

A Scholar's Guide to Getting Published in EnglishThis month we are publishing A Scholar’s Guide to Getting Published in English by Mary Jane Curry and Theresa Lillis. This book provides advice to academics needing to publish their work in English when it is not their native language. Nowadays, researchers all over the world are under pressure to publish in English and this book offers guidance to scholars to help them explore the larger social practices, politics, networks and resources involved in academic publishing.

John Flowerdew from the City University of Hong Kong says the book provides “an excellent overview” of the principles and procedures involved in scholarly publishing. The volume is based on 10 years of research and is written by experts in the field. Both Curry and Lillis have published widely in the field of academic writing.

Risk in Academic WritingWe are also publishing another book on the topic of academic writing next month: Risk in Academic Writing edited by Lucia Thesen and Linda Cooper. This text brings together the voices of teachers, students and authors to examine the idea of risk in the world of academic writing.

Professor Sue Clegg from Leeds Metropolitan University calls it “a powerful, challenging, engaging, and moving collection” and Claire Aitchison from the University of Western Sydney says it is a “must-read.”

Both these books complement our existing publications on similar topics including Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing by Joel Bloch and Ethnographic Fieldwork by Jan Blommaert and Dong Jie.

Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 WritingEthnographic FieldworkAll these titles are available on our website at 20% discount. If you would like any more information about any of these titles or if you’d like to receive a copy of our latest catalogue please email us at