Monthly Archives: March 2015

The methodological creation of “between”: challenging established understandings of boundaries in applied linguistic theory and data

Toronto, Canada

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.


Discursive approaches to language policy – challenges and opportunities

Toronto, Canada

co-presented with Elisabeth Barakos, Vienna University of Economics and Business

Link to Prezi:


In this paper, we aim to explore the interconnectedness of language policy and discourse by proposing a ‘discursive approach to language policy’. This approach combines insights from the fields of critical language policy (e.g. Shohamy 2006, Tollefson 2006) and critical discourse studies (e.g. the discourse-historical approach). Specifically, we argue that a discursive approach to language policy integrates a focus on close textual, contextual and socio-historical analysis of language policies, ideologies and associated practices from a critical perspective. We also add a methodological orientation: to consider what can be gained by bringing together language policy and critical discourse studies, and also what challenges this combination gives rise to.

As case studies, we critically analyse and compare language policy discourses and practices in Wales and Scotland – two partly devolved constituent countries of the United Kingdom in which the autochtonous languages Welsh, Scots and Gaelic have been integrated as a more or less salient part of debates about identity, nation and culture. Given the current heated debates about independence in Scotland and increasing autonomy for Wales, we will trace constructions of language from the pre-devolution era (before 1999) to the present. In particular, we incorporate data collected in two heterogeneous fields: education and business. We combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates and guidelines with an analysis of ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups and interviews consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, we examine the dialectic between policies and practices: between the linguistic and discursive power of the policy per se which construct the symbolic or material value of these languages in strategic ways and the power of social actors that construct, live and breathe policies.