Translanguaging and Collaborative Research

This month we published Translanguaging as Transformation edited by Emilee Moore, Jessica Bradley and James Simpson. In this post the editors talk about the research collaborations that led to the book.

The genesis of our new book was our work together on the project Translation and Translanguaging (known as TLANG). TLANG was a large multi-site ethnographic study of communication across languages and cultures in four UK cities. It was led by Angela Creese in Birmingham, and we, the editors of this book, were on the Leeds-based team. From the start we carried out our work collaboratively, an approach that is in some ways quite different from traditional research, and we regarded our participants as co-researchers in the study. This manifested itself in different ways, in relation to the research settings themselves. For example, our work in a capoeira group involved researchers also participating in the class. In the TLANG project’s Creative Arts Labs, which Jessica helped to develop, we also explored how we, as researchers, might work with creative practitioners from across the arts – a dancer, an opera composer, a visual artist, a story-teller – to experience different processes of knowledge construction.

Alongside the TLANG project we were involved in other collaborative research: with a diverse group of street artists in Slovenia (Jessica), with the poets of Leeds Young Authors (Emilee), and with the West Yorkshire community arts group Faceless Arts (Jessica and James). This led to the creation of the AILA Research Network for Creative Inquiry in Applied Linguistics, co-convened by Emilee, Jessica and our Leeds colleague Lou Harvey, who was undertaking research in dramatic inquiry, also working with creative practitioners.

All this prompted us to reflect upon collaborative research processes, and how they appeared to disrupt traditional research hierarchies. We found others who were carrying out research in intercultural communication in similar ways, and equally productively. We’re delighted that some have become authors of chapters in our book. For us, and for our fellow chapter authors, collaborative research allows the inclusion of voices of those who are not typically heard, the voices of those who have ways of knowing and doing that differ from our own. This is important because it makes the creation of knowledge a more democratic process: our explorations take place not only with fellow academics, but with practitioners and participants from different walks of life and work, and on an equal footing. However, we understand that there is still much work to be done in this area, and our concerns are that the current global situation may make this even harder, as borders close, educational systems are disrupted and an international economic downturn seems inevitable.

As with other established translanguaging research, the outputs of the projects reported in our book disturb the boundaries of languages, and those between languages and other communicative modes. Our aim though is to emphasise the relationships and processes, as well as the products, of collaborative research. By examining the relationships that are built for and through collaborative research we want to make the backstage visible, including the challenges and tensions inherent in this kind of research. By looking at collaborative processes we enable insights into the ownership of knowledge in terms of whose voices are heard and whose voices are therefore considered worth hearing. And a focus on the outcomes of collaboratively-produced research allows us to consider their tangible transformative potential, and what might follow.

We had intended to finish by saying how proud we are to have co-edited a book reporting on collaborative research activity: this, as we say in our introduction, presents a welcome challenge to the privileging of the single academic voice. However, writing as we are in May 2020, during a global pandemic and with mobility massively constrained, our thoughts turn to our own collaborative research. Our work together as editors was characterised by convivial meetings at the University of Leeds, continuing in the cafés around the campus. Now we are apart, and all working from home. We barely leave our towns, and easy international travel seems unlikely. All our collaborators and partners are in the same position, and in many cases hugely precarious. What does this mean for the future of collaborative research?

Emilee Moore Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Emilee.Moore@uab.cat @emooredeluca

Jessica Bradley University of Sheffield jessica.bradley@sheffield.ac.uk @JessMaryBradley

James Simpson University of Leeds j.e.b.simpson@education.leeds.ac.uk @jebsim

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Making Signs, Translanguaging Ethnographies edited by Ari Sherris and Elisabetta Adami. 

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