This talk asks questions about the representation of voice in reporting ethnographic research. Instead of the single, unifying consciousness of the ethnographic author binding together narrative and meaning, the presentation considers an approach to ethnographic writing which is polyphonic, dialogic, and unfinalized. Here structural elements of the text are devoted less to the unity of a single account than to the task of creating a polyphonic world. The presentation places in the foreground the voices of research participants, reconstructing them as dramatic dialogue.
The research reported here was part of a four-year project which set out to understand how people communicate across diverse languages and cultures. The research project was conducted across four cities in the UK. Multilingual interactions were observed and recorded in markets, corner shops, libraries, sports clubs, arts groups, legal advice bureaux, and welfare advice centres[i].
This presentation focuses on one of sixteen sites in which the research team conducted ethnographic research: an advice service in a Chinese community centre. Over four months interactions between advice workers and their clients were documented as field notes and audio-recordings. Advice workers moved in and out of translation zones, mediating for whoever came through the office door, not only translating between languages, but also interpreting the bureaucratic discourse of institutions, regulations, systems, and processes. Their role as translators stretched far beyond the transfer of meanings from one language to another. They were legal advisors, counsellors, advocates, mediators, and much more. In addition, interactions between advisors were recorded in the cracks and seams of everyday life, including during tea breaks, and in quiet moments at work.
The presentation reimagines ethnographic writing as a means of interpreting and representing communication in urban social life. It proposes that a polyphonic, dialogic approach to ethnographic writing questions the authority of the single voice of the ethnographer, and in so doing moves towards a representation of complexity and diversity.
- [i] This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (1 April 2014–31 March 2018) as a Translating Cultures Large Grant: ‘Translation and Translanguaging. Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities’ ((AH/L007096/1) £1,973,527), Principal Investigator, Angela Creese. With Mike Baynham, Adrian Blackledge, Jessica Bradley, John Callaghan, Lisa Goodson, Ian Grosvenor, Amal Hallak, Jolana Hanusova, Rachel Hu, Daria Jankowicz-Pytel, Agnieszka Lyons , Bharat Malkani, Sarah Martin, Emilee Moore De Luca, Li Wei, Jenny Phillimore, Mike Robinson, Frances Rock, James Simpson, Jaspreet Kaur Takhi, Caroline Tagg, Janice Thompson, Kiran Trehan, Piotr Wegorowski, and Zhu Hua.
Adrian Blackledge is Professor of Sociolinguistics at University of Stirling. He conducts ethnographic research in the fields of multilingualism and translanguaging in education and society. His most recent study was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities’. His publications include Voices of a City Market (with Angela Creese, 2019), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Superdiversity (with Angela Creese, 2018), Heteroglossia as Practice and Pedagogy (with Angela Creese, 2014), The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism (with Marilyn Martin-Jones and Angela Creese, 2012), and Multilingualism, A Critical Perspective (with Angela Creese, 2010). He was Poet Laureate for the city of Birmingham, 2014-2016.
- Further information about the wider research project is available here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/about/index.aspx