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Creating space for focus

Creating space for focus

It is rare to get the opportunity to thoroughly discuss and calibrate academic ideas.

A Short-term Scientific Mission at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in March supported by the COST network on new speakers made it possible for me to spend a week collaborating with management committee member Jürgen Jaspers, and for creating a space for focused discussions.

The combination of dedicated interaction and writing was indeed a fruitful kick-off for what we hope will be an exciting publication resulting from the network activities. The specific aim of the STSM to Brussels was to collaborate with Jürgen Jaspers on the preparation of a special issue and the writing of our joint introductory paper for this publication.

Jürgen is associate professor of Dutch linguistics. His vivid and inspirational research focuses on ethnographic and interactional discourse analysis in relation to education, urban multilingualism and linguistic policy making - much in tune with my own research interests and approach.

I had the pleasure of organizing the panel on ‘Sociolinguistics in a languagised world’ with him at the 2nd International Symposium on New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe (COST Action) in Barcelona back in November, and the idea of the special issue came about as a result of this.

We spent the week evaluating contributors’ abstracts and writing the initial part of our introductory paper. Since our paper involves comparing and discussing recent literatures on linguistic hybridity in relation to education and sociolinguistic conceptualization, we spent part of the time discussing readings (prepared in advance) to calibrate our position on these.

This resulted in an interrogation of the relationship between ontology, description and ideology. We decided that our special issue should focus on how theoretical reconceptualization of language in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics can be reconciled with speakers’ and states’ investments and aspirations in a ‘languagised’ world and explore how this impacts on sociolinguistics and its perception outside of academia.

In a usual working week I grapple with lesson planning, teaching, supervising MA students. I respond to peer-review or proofs of forthcoming work or carry out peer-reviews of colleagues’ work. There are meetings with my research group, teacher staff meetings, fieldwork collaboration, co-writing with and advising PhD students, and ongoing editing and writing commitments.

Commuting to and from university with the unpredictability and challenges this can entail, and doing my bit to keep everyday family logistics with young children run, further swallow time and restrict the working space.

These or similar conditions will be familiar to many academics and the variety of tasks and interactions certainly contribute to a fruitful and stimulating work- and everyday life. 

It can be hard, though, to create time and space to focus on one specific project, and to really invest thought and energy in generating ideas with a colleague like I got to do during the week I spent in Brussels.

We manage, of course, to start new projects and carry out collaborative work across national borders through written communication, CMC interactions, brief discussions during conferences, etc. But the value of actually being in the same place for a week, clearing the schedule of other tasks (almost), and taking the time to thoroughly discuss particular lines of thought should not be underestimated.

As a result of the STSM we have established a clear idea of the main arguments of our forthcoming paper and the purpose of the special issue. It has been highly productive and will without a doubt smoothen the finalizing of our writing and the co-editing of the other contributions.

And should you be curious about how the special issue turns out, look out for ‘Sociolinguistics in a Languagised World’ in Applied Linguistics Review in 2016.

Visiting researcher in Barcelona
New Words, New Worlds: Beyond the horizon

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