It was with great excitement that we reconvened in the new academic year on the 14th October. Although the group was small, we managed to make up for the size in the quality of discussion. We were also pleased to welcome a new member – Banan, who has recently started her MA in Applied Linguistics within the Centre for Language and Communication Research.
Jaspal started off the discussion by reminding us of the origins of linguistic ethnography and mentioning briefly some research traditions that inspired the approach. In our discussion, we remembered that linguistic ethnography encompasses two major forces, which are in constant dialogue resulting in “tying ethnography down and opening linguistics up”.
We then moved on to the main point of the discussion – language and the ‘real world’, and a number of excellent points were made. Piotr mentioned some of the expectations and challenges of working with and for people. Zayneb commented on the importance of giving voice to the people we work with, while Frances asked an important question: where this voice is being projected.
We also talked about the difficulties in engaging with people who might not necessarily be engaged themselves, who in fact do not want their voices to be represented in research, as well as the strategies for making change. We tried to decide what ‘giving a voice’ and ‘making a change’ could actually mean for our participants. Very often change happens in unexpected places, and sometimes it does not happen at all. It would seem that serendipity is often necessary in carrying out research in the first place, but also in making research matter for the people who were a part of it.
One of the important themes which emerged in the course of our discussions was the question of representation. Zayneb and Amal both recalled times when people who they worked with expressed views which were not easy to represent, and we talked about the possibilities of alternative representations of those voices. Audio recordings which can make researchers or the audience uncomfortable, but which still have an important function for the research output, could perhaps be rendered in a form different than a transcript. Maybe it would be good to organise a session devoted to this issue?
The discussions continued, and apart from the issues of representation, we also touched upon the question of researchers’ vulnerability and the ways of dealing with it. The stimulating discussion meant that the time went by really quickly, and the discussion came to an end, but we are pleased to say that our conversations will be continued. Two of the people present were very keen to lead future sessions. Amal will talk to us during the next meeting, on the 11th November, how to get involved in a research site without becoming distracted. Our meetings in 2015 will close with a session led by Zayneb, who will talk about the use of fieldnotes in linguistic ethnography. We are looking forward to the meetings over the next two months, and many more in the future!