How Can We Represent Social Life in Ethnographic Writing?

This month we published Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain how they put the book together.

Which differences are salient to people when they interact in contexts of social and linguistic diversity? How are these differences made resourceful in communication as people draw on their biographies, histories, education, language backgrounds, and economic capital? We examined these questions by conducting ethnographic observations in the Bull Ring market in Birmingham, as part of a four-year AHRC-funded research project, ‘Translation and Translanguaging. Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities’.

In the market we observed interactions between butchers and their customers as they haggled, bartered, argued, and joked. We wrote field notes, audio-recorded service interactions, interviewed market traders, took photographs, video-recorded, and collected messages on WeChat and WhatsApp. Communication in the market was characterized by translanguaging, an orientation to difference in which people were willing to make use of whatever resources were available to make themselves understood. Not that everything in the market hall was convivial – everyday sexism and casual racism also raised their heads.

The material we collected was carefully analysed. Transcripts and translations were pored over and annotated, audio-recordings listened to, video-recordings repeatedly watched, online and digital messages scrutinized, photographs examined, discussions held. Reports were authored, academic articles published. However, content is only half of the story. We were concerned that conventional academic writing may not adequately represent the complexity and richness of the discourse of the superdiverse market. So we stripped away analysis, explanation, and exegesis, leaving the voices of traders, shoppers, and researchers to speak for themselves. Rather than structure the ethnography around big ideas and grand theories, we represented the world of the market as an assemblage of ethnographic material, a polyphonic collage of everyday voices and social practices.

In the book the life of the market is framed by a discussion in which a cast of nine characters debates the representation of social life. Two butchers, a photographer, a professor, a dramaturg, an entrepreneur, a researcher, a documentary novelist, and a poet rehearse many of the debates that surfaced in our research team over more than four years. Referring to the artistic production of the world of the market, their voices are thoughtful, opinionated, generous, biased, indignant, and collaborative. The same characters return at the end of the book to reflect on the text.

The assemblage of ethnographic material creates a polyphony of beliefs, commitments, and ideologies. The form of the text, at once poetic and scientific, represents the fragmented yet orderly cacophony of the market. Artistic form, argues Bakhtin (1984: 43), does not shape already prepared and found content, “but rather permits content to be found and seen for the first time”. In the terms of photographer Dorothea Lange (1965), calling attention to the mundane, the everyday, the familiar, enables people to see, as if for the first time, what they have passed by a thousand times. We hope to achieve something of this sort in Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Edited and translated by C. Emerson). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lange, D. (1965) Under the Trees. KQED for National Educational Television (NET).

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

Summer Reads

The sun has finally come to Bristol and we’ve already published an array of exciting new books this summer, with plenty still to come! Here’s a round up of all the new titles for your summer reading list…

June

Decolonising Multilingualism

In this groundbreaking text, Alison Phipps pulls together ethical approaches to researching multilingually in contexts of pain, conflict and crisis; the position of the researcher; and the question of multilingualism and anglonormativity. It is both global and local in scale, ranging from Scotland to Ghana, Aotearoa / New Zealand to Sudan.

The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages

This book presents the first comprehensive overview of national laws recognising sign languages, their impacts and the advocacy campaigns which led to their creation. Each chapter is grounded in a collaborative writing approach between deaf and hearing scholars and activists involved in legislative campaigns.

 

Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency

This volume examines the agency of second/foreign language teachers in diverse geographical contexts. It offers new understandings and conceptualizations through a variety of types of empirical data. It also demonstrates the use of different methodologies to analyze the multidimensional, dynamic and complex nature of language teacher agency.

Mandarin Chinese Dual Language Immersion Programs

This book discusses multiple aspects of Chinese dual language immersion programs, focusing on the Utah model. Themes include how to build a supportive classroom, the views of those involved, teacher identities, strategy use, corrective feedback, Chinese-character teaching, and the translanguaging phenomenon.

 

Critical Perspectives on Global Englishes in Asia

This book addresses the incorporation of Global Englishes into language policy and curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices, and focuses on a wide range of geographical and language contexts. It will be of interest to policymakers, curriculum developers and practitioner-researchers in the area of English language education.

 

July

The Action-oriented Approach

This book presents the background to the current shift in language education towards action-oriented teaching and provides a theorization of the Action-oriented Approach (AoA). It contains a research-informed description of the AoA and explains its implications for curriculum planning, teaching, assessment and pedagogy.

Grammatical Profiles

This collection brings together language profiles of the Language Assessment Remediation and Screening Procedure (LARSP) from 12 languages around the world. It will be an invaluable resource for speech-language pathologists in many countries and for those wishing to analyse the grammatical abilities of clients of many linguistic backgrounds.

Using Film and Media in the Language Classroom

This book demonstrates the advantages and impact of using film and audiovisual material in the language classroom. The chapters are evidence-based and address different levels and contexts of learning around the world. It will be of interest to practising teachers as well as those on teacher training courses.

 

Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System

This volume sheds empirical light on Complex Dynamic Systems Theory by providing analyses of two longitudinal, interactional datasets. The individual analyses traverse the domains of morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse. As a whole, the collection demonstrates the impact of the ecosystem on individuals’ use of language.

Objects, Bodies and Work Practice

In this volume, contributors focus on how professionals organize their embodied conduct with material objects. The book concentrates specifically on connections between ongoing courses of interaction within work practices, object materiality and mobility in space, bodily movement and manipulation of objects, and language.

 

August

Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice

This book provides an accessible guide to multilingual teaching in diverse classrooms world-wide. It is grounded in the latest research and takes a realistic approach to the challenges found in the modern school. The author argues that multilingual teaching is an option for all teachers, and that it has benefits for every child in the classroom.

Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching

The volume unites research and practice on integrating language learning, teaching and assessment at pre- and early school age. It provides useful case study insights for policymakers, teacher educators and researchers, and practical ideas for practitioners who wish to implement greater integration of assessment and learning in their own contexts.

Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality

This book unites studies on second language acquisition and interculturality in a study abroad context, providing timely perspectives on research in each area while also exploring the interface between them. Chapters highlight innovative themes such as social networks, input matters, learner identities and study abroad in lingua franca contexts.

Voices of a City Market

This book breaks new ground in its representation of the voices of people in a superdiverse city. Poetic and compelling, it places the reader at the heart of the market, surrounded by the voices of people from all over the world. Based on four years of ethnographic research, it is a book that reimagines the conventions of ethnographic writing.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.

ICFSLA 2019 Conference in Szczyrk

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.

Szczyrk – host town to the annual ICFSLA conference

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.

The conference hotel

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.

‘Translanguaging’ mindmap

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! 

Laura

Communication in the Multilingual City – the TLANG conference

While my colleagues were gallivanting off to AAAL and TESOL in Chicago, or holding the fort in the office, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the TLANG conference at the University of Birmingham at the end of March. TLANG is a big AHRC funded project that aims to understand how people communicate multilingually across diverse languages and cultures and the conference was the final event, bringing together work focused on the theme of communication in the city.

Betsy Rymes' keynote speech
Betsy Rymes’ keynote speech

The conference offered a wealth of papers, colloquia and some excellent keynotes, by Betsy Rymes, Annalies Kusters, Tong-King Lee, Ana Deumert and Jan Blommaert (whose work was presented by Massimiliano Spotti). Betsy Rymes opened the conference and spoke on the topic of citizen linguistics, the work language users do to make sense of their surroundings, and illustrated her keynote with local examples, asking for example what a Brummie is and how they speak, as well as a discussion of the ghost emoji, which has always been a mystery to me!

Annalies Kusters introduced the audience to her work on multimodal interactions and the use of gestures by signing and non-signing interlocutors in India. She showed us wonderful examples from her film ‘Ishaare: Gestures and signs in Mumbai’, in which we saw fluent deaf and deafblind signers negotiating the marketplace and interacting with non-signing stallholders. Her keynote was an especially engaging end to the day as it was impressively and seamlessly presented in both sign language and spoken English.

Ana Deumert's keynote speech
Ana Deumert’s keynote speech

The second day was opened by Tong-King Lee, who spoke of his own experiences with translanguaging and advanced the idea of translanguaging as an experiential phenomenon. I was interested in his example of how one might successfully communicate one’s order for Chinese tea in a Singapore coffee shop, by using the action of fishing to demonstrate the dunking of the teabag! In the following plenary, Ana Deumert took the audience away from her hopeful 2016 work and asked whether life is not always friendly and accepting, and questioned what the limits of conviviality are. She spoke about confrontation, violence, anger and the persistence and importance of identities, and accompanied her arguments with archival videos and photos, as well as a discussion of posts and comments on colonial nostalgia from social media and online communities.

My conference display
My conference display

When not in sessions, the coffee and lunch breaks were busy affairs, and I was kept on my toes at the stand as delegates snapped up our latest publications The Multilingual Citizen edited by Lisa Lim, Christopher Stroud and Lionel Wee and Dialogues of Ethnography by Jan Blommaert, as well as the books in our new Translation and Interpreting for Social Justice in a Globalised World series.

Laura

Summer conference travel – EUROSLA and BAAL

As usual, we attended both the EUROSLA and BAAL conferences this summer and I was fortunate enough to get to represent Multilingual Matters at both.

Laura with the outdoor book display
Laura with the outdoor book display

This year marked the 25th EUROSLA conference and the special anniversary meeting took place Aix-en-Provence in France. The conference followed the usual format with plenaries by key researchers in the field and many papers on a wide variety of topics within the domain of second language acquisition. The novelty from a publishing aspect was that I got to do my first ever outdoor book display in the glorious (if rather hot!) French sunshine.

The delegates and I very much enjoyed the fresh air during the breaks, as well as the excellent refreshments that were provided.  I was most impressed that the organisers provided everyone with a re-useable mug at the start of the conference and we used them during each break – saving well over a thousand disposable cups throughout the conference.

The Pavillon Vendôme, location of the welcome reception
The Pavillon Vendôme, location of the welcome reception

We spent the first evening of the conference at an outdoor drinks reception at the beautiful Pavillon Vendôme where we were welcomed to the city by the mayor.  We were treated to tasty canapés, wine and I even tried pastis for the first time. My verdict was positive although I can imagine that the anise flavour might not be to everyone’s taste! The second evening was the conference dinner and again the wonderful French weather meant that we could make the most of another warm evening with drinks and dinner outside. Following the pattern of the conference thus far, we were again spoilt with yet more delicious food and drink!

The bestselling books of the conference were Measuring L2 Proficiency edited by Pascale Leclercq, Amanda Edmonds and Heather Hilton, Working Memory in Second Language Acquisition and Processing edited by Zhisheng (Edward) Wen, Mailce Borges Mota and Arthur McNeill, and Vivian Cook and David Singleton’s textbook Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition. David Singleton was also the recipient of the EUROSLA Distinguished Member Award during the conference, which was also a proud moment for us as he is founder and co-series editor of our Second Language Acquisition series.

From EUROSLA in France I headed back home and then straight on to BAAL which this year was hosted by Aston University in Birmingham. Sadly we left the sunshine behind us but having hardly ever been to Birmingham, despite it being less than a couple of hours from Bristol, I was interested to attend a conference in the city. The Aston University campus was located right in the heart of the centre but still manages to be a pleasant, green campus.

Birmingham's Poet Laureate Adrian Blackledge
Birmingham’s Poet Laureate Adrian Blackledge

The conference was opened by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese who gave a stimulating plenary during which they played some enchanting vignettes from their research, which included examples of communication in both the city library and market. A further highlight of the conference was a poetry session by Adrian Blackledge who is the current Poet Laureate for Birmingham. He recited some of the poems that he has composed during the past year, which included one to commemorate the start of the First Word War, another to celebrate Burns Night, and one which was not an official poem but that he had written on the birth of his first grandchild, a really touching piece.

Bestsellers at BAAL were understandably quite different to those at EUROSLA and the list was headed up by the second edition of Bonny Norton’s book Identity and Language Learning, Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes by Jan Blommaert and our new title Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara.

Next on our travel list include our annual trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where we meet with our contacts and representatives from the book industry, and then Tommi will be heading to Auckland in November for both the Symposium on Second Language Writing and the Language, Education and Diversity conference. Look out for him there if you are also in attendance!

Laura