Difficult but essential outward-looking collaboration: Combining variationist, interactional, and ethnographic methods in urban youth language research

Wednesday 24 October 2018, 4.00PM - 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Rob Drummond (Manchester Metropolitan University)

This talk reflects on the very real issues that can emerge when people from different disciplines within sociolinguistics attempt to collaborate on a project right from the beginning. Much interdisciplinary work involves: a) researchers from one area using techniques from another area on a particular project; b) researchers from one area bringing in experts from another area onto an existing project; or c) researchers from different areas working on complementary aspects of the same project, often looking at different data that is later combined. What is less common is researchers from different areas working in precisely the same context, collecting the same data, at the same time.

The project described here saw a variationist and an ethnographer/interactional sociolinguist attempt to collaborate, from day one, in the research space of a Pupil Referral Unit learning centre – a volatile, emotional, and unpredictable educational facility for young people aged 14-16 who have been permanently excluded from mainstream school. Although as researchers we had shared aims (to explore and document the linguistic and non-linguistic meaning-making processes of these young people) and a shared positive outlook, the practical realities of our different approaches gradually became painfully apparent. We soon realised that within our different skills and methods are embedded certain assumptions and theories about the nature of the relationship between language and society, and even different ways of seeing the world. What is more, subtly different understandings of shared terminology meant that we often weren’t even aware that we were talking at cross-purposes.

I will describe some of the difficulties we faced, how we addressed them, and reflect on the resulting successes and failures. In doing so, I will argue that the overall benefits of such meaningful collaboration, however personally challenging, outweigh the difficulties. The process of properly engaging with the approaches of another discipline forces the kind of critical self-reflection of one’s own approach that simply isn’t possible when working alone. Such reflection allows us not only to identify areas where variationist sociolinguistics needs to develop in order to avoid potentially meaningless self-reference and contemplation, but also to identify existing strengths from which other disciplines can learn.

Throughout, I will present findings from the research, and assess the extent to which they have been strengthened (or otherwise) by the collaborative process.


Location: V/N/123

Admission: Everyone

Email: linguistics@york.ac.uk