The methodological creation of “between”: challenging established understandings of boundaries in applied linguistic theory and data
co-presented with Diane Potts, Lancaster University
In post-structuralist analyses of discourse and society, the methodological step of establishing the boundaries of one’s object of concern is intellectually and ethically fraught. Problematically, boundaries are frequently conceptualised and realized in metaphoric dichotomies of space (e.g. “here” vs. “there”, “home country” vs. “host/new country”), time (“before” vs. “after the move”) and medium (“online” vs. “offline”). Interestingly, opposition to these dichotomies is equally dependent on metaphors. Thus, one finds Heller (2012) describing a conceptual journey from “resources” to “discursive sites” to “trajectories,” Jenkins (2006) explaining the conceptual rise of “convergence” in media, politics, education, and Kubota (2014) problematizing “plurality”, “hybridity” and “fluidity” within the “multi/plural turn.” Boundaries play an essential role for researchers in locating their studies within theoretical traditions, and for participants in making sense of experience, but metaphors are never unmotivated. This paper reports on attempts to mitigate the methodological challenge posed by metaphor by engaging participants in practices of “metaphoric choice.” Drawing on data from an on-going study of UK international graduate students and their digitally mediated political practices, we describe an interview process in which participants were offered a selection of conceptual metaphors for describing and explaining their digital activities. The metaphors were drawn from research literature and are presented to participants alongside associated lexical and grammatical resources. We explore how participants took up the metaphors, how alternatives were examined and evaluated, and whether metaphors from participants’ additional languages were introduced into the conversations. We close with a discussion of mediating interviews through the abstraction of metaphor in contrast to more concrete, material descriptions which often centre the interview process, and the potential of such practices for investigating the ‘between’ spaces which are the focus of our own research on digitally mediated language use.