Research Impact. A Discursive Point of View
Defined as the contribution that research can make to respond to a social demand, impact has always been crucial in defining the success research can have in society. Thus, new fields of research – from engineering in the late 19th century to Gender Studies in the last third of the 20th century – have always responded to a social demand. While impact has usually been reflected in the resources a field can mobilise in society, most notably through the number of students it can attract, recent evaluation schemes on national and European levels increasingly require researchers to demonstrate measurable impact. Against a discourse analytical background, I will privilege the perspective of researchers as practical producers of academic research and ask what it can mean to academic discourse if impact needs to be measured.
Big data, big impact? Corpus Linguistics and press representation of Muslims
Corpus-based discourse analysis is an increasingly popular way of conducting research on representation of identity. Corpora, or large collections of representative texts, stored electronically (e.g. press, tweets, fiction, political speeches) are examined via computer software. Such tools summarise frequency information in large corpora and perform statistical tests in order to identify phenomena that are more frequent than expected. The tools can also present language data in ways that allow researchers to identify linguistic patterns more effectively. My own research has used corpus methods to examine representations of gay, bisexual and heterosexual men and women, trans people, refugees and asylum seekers and people receiving benefits. This talk describes an ESRC-funded project on the press representation of Muslims and Islam, focussing on methods used, key findings and the experiences of our team in relation to impact. In terms of academic impact, I will address challenges faced in trying to popularise a new method over the last decade, while in terms of impact outside academia I discuss obstacles to getting this kind of academic research acknowledged and accepted in public contexts.
The history of impact: linguists and the early BBC
In 1926 the BBC, Britain's first (and at the time, only) national broadcasting organization, appointed a committee of the Great and Good to advise it on spoken language. Predictably, the committee was dominated by the traditional arbiters of correctness and good taste, 'men of letters' like the poet laureate Robert Bridges and the playwright George Bernard Shaw. But the BBC--not without some trepidation--also decided to call on the expertise of several men who had been trained in the modern disciplines of phonetics and (new) philology (Daniel Jones was a founder member, while later additions included Harold Orton, now remembered for his work on the Survey of English Dialects). The committee was perhaps the first body of its kind to include people whose approach to language was scientific and descriptive. In this presentation I will draw on archived records to tell the (largely unknown) story of the Spoken English Advisory Committee. I will consider the role the linguistically trained members played, and point out some parallels between their situation and the situation of linguists engaged in public debate today.
Variation, the Stylistic Landscape, and Social Change
This talk will take the perspective that sociolinguistic variation constitutes a robust social-semiotic system enabling the non-propositional expression of social concerns as they unfold in interaction. Thus it is essential to social life and part of the pragmatics that links speech to the wider social system. Variation takes on meaning through its role in stylistic practice, which includes the stylistic construction of social types and personae. These types and personae are not trivial, but vivify the social distinctions that constitute the social order. They are also not static, but differ across social space and across time. I will argue that change in personae is integral to social change, making variation not just a reflection of social change, but part of what brings it about.
Research as Spherogenic
In my talk I propose to frame research as a social dynamic, or, more precisely, as spherogenic. I contrast this to the more common framing of research as a knowledge generation mechanism. The notion spherogenic highlights the affects and tensions that are inherent in any research that negotiates, with 'the subjects' of research, about what questions should legitimately be asked and which cannot be asked, and what answers are possible and impossible. As social dynamic, such research also asks how the research process and its outcomes bear on practice and identity. I argue that framing research as spherogenic raises new possibilities: It may negotiate social and organisational phenomena in registers that match the registers of those in the lifeworld, enabling people to take immediate action. It may help avoid predetermined and utopic researcher stances, as contained in claims about scientific neutrality and objectivity or about political commitment and value critique, both of which reify and simplify intricate kinds of research process unfolding. It may produce new understandings and new ways of being and doing in the world for not just the researched, but also for the researcher who may revise their own research stance and theory. The talk exemplifies these issues by drawing on the video resources produced by a project involving clinicians and patients in strengthening in-hospital-infection control. By way of conclusion, I suggest that to frame and conduct research as spherogenics means committing to social research as a practice. Foregrounding social research as practice involves countervailing the self-referentiality of theory and the decontextualisation of methodology, and this means challenging researchers’ inclination to operate "at a safe distance and some steps behind"2 those who struggle to live and work in an increasingly complex world.
Klaus P. Schneider
Variational pragmatics: Trends, perspectives, impact
Variational pragmatics, conceptualised as the interface of pragmatics with sociolinguistics, examines how sociological factors influence language use in interaction. Questions typically addressed include, for example, why language use conventions may differ across varieties of the same language, how regional identity or ethnic membership may be reflected in recurrent linguistic patterns, and how sociological factors interact in a given situation. The present talk provides a survey of current issues and future perspectives in this field and highlights the impact of variational pragmatics on our understanding of verbal behaviour.
After a brief overview of the original framework, specifying relevant sociological factors and levels of analysis, this talk reports on new findings, methodological innovations and theoretical controversies. In particular, topics include the status of written questionnaire data, the triangulation of experimental and naturally-occurring data, and the creative adaptation of Labovian methods. Hotly debated theoretical issues concern the concept of pragmatic sameness, the nature of pragmatic variables, and the relationship between pragmatic competence and cultural models. The possibility of integrating genres of written discourse is also addressed. Finally, it is shown how variational pragmatics is relevant to language teaching and learning, and how it more generally shapes our notions of language use and variation, and our perception of miscommunication and tensions between social groups in society.
Understanding Intercultural Communicative Competence through learning by doing
Experiential learning theory (also known as ‘learning by doing’) is one of the most influential educational approaches in intercultural learning. It advocates that learning best takes place through direct participation in and direct encounter with the events of life. In this presentation, I shall talk about how my own experience of learning by doing in two organisations contributes to my understanding of the development of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC). These main findings, as previously reported in Jiang & Zhu, 2010; Zhu, Jiang & Watson, 2011; Waston & Zhu, 2012, are:
Children employ a range of linguistic and interactional resources despite disparities of their language abilities. However, linguistic competence is often conflated with ICC.Competence, although it is defined in contrast to performance, is subject to negotiation between self and others.The conventional ways of using questionnaires to evaluate the impact of participation on ICC need to be questioned. An alternative way of measuring changes through a set of predictive and reflective ratings is proposed.Reflection is the key to turning experience into learning.
The two organisations which I have worked with are: CISV (an international charity with volunteer organisers in over 60 countries offering a range of international ‘summer village’ programmes in which children as young as eleven-year-old from different countries stay together for four weeks) and Raleigh International (a youth education charity offering opportunities for young volunteers from around the world to work with under-developed local communities). The opportunity to work with the two organisations was brought about through Knowledge Transfer Partnership funded by ESRC/DTI in 2004-7 and ESRC/TSB in 2009-11.