I spent four hours this morning at the entrances to Lancaster University, picketing for my union, UCU, who are involved in an ongoing industrial dispute centred around fair pay. I was joined by colleagues from across the University: members of UCU and the other main campus unions (UNITE and UNISON) but also by students from the Lancaster University Anti-Capitalist group, who brought radical slogans and music.

Spirits are usually high at the picket line – we feel like we are doing something to bring about positive change, we are standing up for our rights and supporting each other. And today was no different: many people stopped at the picket line while driving, riding or walking past, took a leaflet and perhaps exchanged a few words with us. But others drove straight past, stern-faced and with windows (and minds) firmly closed.

There is almost never enough time to fully explain why we’re striking, which is one reason we have our leaflets. But more than once today I wished I had been able to say my piece, to express my thoughts in full to some of the people passing. I’m not talking about the strike in general, which is more than adequately explained on the UCU website (see http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk). I’m talking about some specific things I would have liked to say to some of the individuals who passed me.

To the student who, when I said we were striking for fair pay, answered “well I pay £9000 and I’m not getting my lectures”:

You’re right. You pay a lot for your education. I protested against the introduction of tuition fees, as did my union. I am deeply opposed to the ideologically loaded fees policy, which reduces opportunities for the least advantaged, increases inequality, and will cost much more in the long run than not charging any fees at all. But given that you will pay these fees (one day, once you earn enough), where would you like to see the money invested? In prestige projects that make the campus look pretty, but are often designed by architects who have no idea about what university teaching actually involves? In Vice-Chancellors’ salary increases (more than 5% up on average just in the past year)? Into maintaining what is arguably an excessive surplus (currently £1bn or more in the sector)? Or in the dedicated, highly qualified staff who make your education possible, and who determine its quality? I think the students who stood side-by-side with us today expressed it better than I can: “Support the staff who support you”.

To the many colleagues who passed by who are not members of a union:

I’m here for you too, not just my fellow union members. But are you happy to accept any gains we might win? Or will you turn down a salary increase that might arise from our industrial action? Do you enjoy the rights and benefits that have been brought about or enhanced through past industrial action, such as weekends, regulated working hours, holidays, pensions, appeals processes, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination rules, workplace safety rules, rights of redress… I could go on. All I can ask is that you consider joining (or re-joining) the union – for teaching or research staff (including postgraduates who teach) this can easily be done here: https://join.ucu.org.uk.

To the colleagues who are members of a union, but still crossed the picket line:

You are harming our cause. The point of industrial action is that all members of the union act together, with the only tool that we can (lawfully) use to compel our employers to listen to us: withdrawal of labour. If you come into work, work from home, or rearrange classes for another day, you may as well wear a big sign saying “feel free to walk all over me”. You may disagree with this particular action, or think that you earn enough already and so have no need to take part. But unless the union supports its weakest members, including those who are not as fortunate as you, it is not a union. The union is a representative democracy, and like many such institutions, it can never be perfect for everyone. And when you are more personally affected, how would you feel if your colleagues turned their backs on you? If you are targeted unfairly as an individual, will you ask the union for casework support? Finally, even if you are not concerned about pay, this should not stop you from taking part in the action: I’m not striking because I want more money, I’m striking because I am disgusted with the inequality in the sector, with VCs often earning more than 20 times what the lowest paid earn, and because I am deeply concerned by the ongoing marketisation and commercialisation of education.

To the lorry driver who cancelled his delivery to the university and turned around because he did not want to cross our picket line:

Thank you. The world needs more people like you.

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National Key Research Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics

My visit to Guangdong University of Foreign Studies was featured on the National Key Research Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics website, along with a picture of me talking about what I usually talk about – critical discourse studies!

Johnny Unger talking about CDS at GDUFS

Johnny talking about CDS

New media, old power: challenging elite discourse through digitally augmented activism

Hangzhou, China

Abstract

This paper will discuss how and why activists use digital media such as microblogs and websites to contest and subvert the discourse produced by powerful institutions and disseminated via traditional media. By presenting the results of a discourse-historical analysis of several campaigns aimed at governments and multinational businesses, questions are raised about traditional understandings of how power is enacted and constructed in the contemporary media landscape. In particular, the acceleration of global flows of information via social media, within and between different cultures, is shown to problematize the notion that ‘elite’, static texts are the best objects of analysis for critical discourse studies. Instead, scholars need a new inventory of tools that can handle dynamic, constantly changing texts, often produced, reproduced and recontextualised by multiple authors and interpretable only by considering how meaning is generated through rapid traversal of different semiotic elements, rather than monolithic texts. At the same time, more traditional notions of media power have not become irrelevant, and political and economic elites are undoubtedly still central in framing public discourse. Increasingly, however, traditional media such as newspapers or television interact with digital media in complex, and often also dynamic ways. It is these interactions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ that prove the most fruitful sites of analysis: in particular, through close analysis of which contesting voices and frames are taken up in traditional media, and which are ignored.

Invited paper: Approaching language policy from a critical perspective: the role of discourse studies

Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Guangzhou, China

(N.B. This is an updated version of the talk I gave at Leeds LLTPRG last year)

Abstract

In this paper I will outline some of the main theoretical and methodological considerations involved in applying a critical discourse studies framework to the study of language policies and language attitudes. In particular, I will attempt to show how we can best use critical, discursive approaches such as critical discourse analysis when examining language attitudes and policies. Two case studies will illustrate this point: first, drawing on a previous research project, a study of the Scots language, an autochtonous minority language spoken in Scotland, is used to show how language attitudes pervade the public and private spheres, and how often languages are evaluated positively, but not necessarily valued; and second, I will present the findings from an investigation into attitudes towards the use of English as a Lingua Franca at a higher education institution in France, in which students in a highly multilingual environment hold sometimes unexpected attitudes towards the various languages in their linguistic repertoires. In each case, “top-down” data such as policy documents and debates among power elites are combined with “bottom-up” data gathered from language users affected by policies and attitudes. I will argue that it is not enough to look at the content of language policies and what people say about language. Rather, to fully account for the impact of policy and attitudes on the lives of language users, we must look at how both powerful and affected groups and structure, instrumentalise, and recontextualise discourse on language and language varieties.

My visit to Olashore International School this past June was featured in the School’s magazine, Oasis. I’m about to go again – really looking forward to seeing the students and staff again.

freelART® DESIGNS

1Welcome to the last edition of Oasis for this academic session, 2012/2013. This has been a busy and exciting term in the school and I hope you will enjoy the photos and stories in the magazine relating our activities. The focus of the magazine this term is on our new prefects and the leadership role that they take on in the school. Prefects are the face of leadership within the school. During the year parents and guests have seen the leading role that prefects played at major events such as Founder’s Day. They also take responsibility for many programmes within the school including the mid-term carnival along with a range of daily duties.

As we have begun to develop our Alumni Association and taken time to reflect on the words of the Founder, it is clear that leadership is one of the key qualities that makes an Olashore graduate standout…

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been involved in two events that have tested my analysis skills. The first was as “Rhetoric Officer” in the first sitting of The Rational Parliament. This innovative new forum for public debate on issues that matter took place in London last week. The organiser Adam Smith invited me to comment on how members of the parliament were using language, and to alert them to any attempts to use “rhetorical tricks” to manipulate the audience. What made this unlike any other analysis I’d done before was that it had to happen in real time. There I was, on the night, sitting next to the “Speaker” (Michael Brooks, the moderator of the debate) and giving my thoughts on language use every so often.

Picture of the rational parliament in session

The Rational Parliament in session

The good news is the audience seemed to appreciate my contributions, and I quite enjoyed it. Someone commented that it really “cooled off” the debate – perhaps making people think about how they were speaking discouraged them from verbal attacks. I think the way the session was introduced by Adam and moderated by Michael had a much bigger impact in this regard.

Having observed my live analysis at the Rational Parliament, Daniel Trilling, editor of New Humanist magazine, approached me earlier this week to ask whether I would perform a similar kind of analysis on the UK party leaders’ speeches being broadcast over the next fortnight. Though I had some doubts over whether I wanted to open my analysis to the scrutiny of potentially thousands of followers of the Rationalist Association twitter feed, I agreed, because I have for a long time believed that we critical discourse analysts need to get out of the ivory tower and communicate our research, and above all our analyses,
to a wider public. This is the result of my first live-tweeting, then writing up in a slightly more coherent fashion (you may disagree with the latter statement), my analysis of the speech.

I got some help along the way from my colleague Veronika Koller, my PhD student David Pask-Hughes, and several other linguists and non-linguists who were watching the debate. I wonder if this could become a trend? At least for important public events and speeches, if enough linguists, logicians, political scientists, sociologists, and other thinkers, make a concerted effort to post their on-the-fly critiques of poliiticans’ speeches and actions, would this make a difference? Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but it sounds like something to try.

Comments and thoughts, and above all critiques of my analysis (bearing in mind it was done in real time) are very welcome!

 

Invited paper: Using critical discourse studies to investigate language policy and attitudes

Leeds University, Language, Linguistics and Translation PGR group (LLTPGR)

Abstract

In this paper I will outline some of the main theoretical and methodological considerations involved in applying a critical discourse studies framework to the study of language policies and language attitudes. In particular, I will attempt to show how we can best use critical, discursive approaches such as critical discourse analysis when examining language attitudes and policies. Two case studies will illustrate this point: first, drawing on a previous research project, a study of the Scots language, an autochtonous minority language spoken in Scotland, is used to show how language attitudes pervade the public and private spheres, and how often languages are evaluated positively, but not necessarily valued; and second, I will present the initial findings from an ongoing investigation into attitudes towards the use of English as a Lingua Franca at a higher education institution in France, in which students in a highly multilingual environment hold sometimes unexpected attitudes towards the various languages in their linguistic repertoires. In each case, “top-down” data such as policy documents and debates among power elites are combined with “bottom-up” data gathered from language users affected by policies and attitudes. I will argue that it is not enough to look at the content of language policies and what people say about language. Rather, to fully account for the impact of policy and attitudes on the lives of language users, we must look at how both powerful and affected groups and structure, instrumentalise, and recontextualise discourse on language and language varieties.