Hope for a generation (of sociolinguists)

7 10 2009

I think the world of sociolinguistics and other forms sociocultural scholarship on language. And so I am pleased to learn of languageonthemove.com, “a collaborative space where research on language and communication in multicultural and transnational contexts can be shared, brainstormed, discussed and disseminated.”

The ‘portal’ is managed by Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi and comes with a blog, conference announcements, resources, and an award for aspiring sociolinguists:

Each year we would like to present two young researchers in the field with the chance to “play” with us on Language on the Move. We will feature the awardees’ work prominently on the site and mentor them over the course of one year to take your research (and your research writing!) to “the next level” – whatever that “next level” may be. The mentoring relationship is designed to be informal, related to the dissemination of your work, and to complement and support your existing supervision arrangements but not to infringe upon those in any way. Oh, and we’ll also throw in a book voucher at the end of the year.

Lovely idea. Then again, so is this.

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DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.





DiO Workshop day III: PhD colloquium

18 09 2009

Third and final DiO day. The morning slots were dedicated to a PhD colloquium (in collaboration with the Association for Business Communication). Ten people presented their research in five parallel sessions. Each participant was appointed one or two mentors.

I attended four presentations: first up was Kristian Hursti (Helsinki School of Economics). His talk on financial forecasts doubled as Kristian’s maiden speech, but it did not show. Kristian previously worked as a financial journalist at Reuters and has only recently embarked on a PhD project. My future colleague Jasper Vandenberghe (University College Ghent) then gave a presentation on self-justification in press releases.

Sabine Rettinger’s (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München) talk on competence displays in – to quote Chris Braecke – Socratic coaching interactions illustrate, among other things, how coaches position themselves interactionally vis-à-vis their clients. The final presentation I attended was by Hana Blazkova (University of Birmingham) on involvement strategies in so-called business development network presentations.





DiO workshop Day I: Celia Roberts

16 09 2009

Celia Roberts kicked off the first DiO session with a keynote on how ethnic diversity gets squeezed into institutions, in particular during job interviews. What exactly goes on in these interviews? Why do ethnic minority groups have persistently lower success rates during job interviews?

Many companies nowadays use “competency frameworks” during interviews. For instance, one of the five competencies that were used during the selection of junior management positions in a large British corporation was the notion of ‘taking ownership’. This a somewhat vague concept referring to ‘skills’ like

  • owning up to responsibility for a manager’s impact on team performance;
  • maintaining high personal standards;
  • being honest about personal strengths, etc.

The rationale of competency frameworks is that it looks structured and fairer (“equal opportunities”) than questions such as “why do you want to work here”. Paradoxically, these frameworks produce disadvantages for candidates because they assume mastership of a register that is foreign to many applicants.

Job interviews blend three discourses: analytic talk, work-based talk and personal talk. These discourses are embedded and evaluated in a bureaucratic routine (it has to fit a certain ‘box’). In addition, there is a particular penalty associated with the interview that is inherently linguistic (cf. Bourdieu’s notion of ‘linguistic capital’). ‘Taking ownership’ is one such example of an abstract formulation that has been judged a suitable competence.

Crucially, some ethnic groups do not have access to these forms of linguistic capital and hence are almost systematically unsuccessful at job interviews. Celia looked primarily at low-paid jobs using an interactional sociolinguistic approach and video recordings of 76 interviews.

Celia’s data really drove home how successful candidates blend discourse modes (“customer-focused, deadline driven, “) and manage specific narrative structures (eg. the STAR structure – Situation, Task, Action, Result). Celia also looked at management interviews, in particular how some narratives are judged “acceptable” and others are not. Interestingly, successful candidates blended direct quotations with subtle, vivid and economic descriptions that display (analytic) agency and “responsible”, “professional” identities. Unsuccessful candidates used verbatim quotations and did not use self-evaluative descriptions.

So, if job interviews are indirectly discriminatory, one solution is to get rid of job interviews and substitute it with trials and more active mentoring for aspiring managers. Alternatively, educational materials in which the implied conversational rules are explained could be produced (e.g. DVDs).

“Job interview”, Flickr.com (Susanne13)





Language and media session @ J21C

17 07 2009

A small but interested turnout at yesterday’s session on language and media at the Journalism in the 21st Century conference at the University of Melbourne (Law Building – fantastic venue for a conference). Nice diversity of papers, great discussion afterwards. Here are a few of my impressions.

1. Van Hout, Tom, Ghent University, Belgium
Quality Churnalism: Ethnographic Insights into Business News Production
Here is my presentation – adapted slightly at the last minute to fit the 15 minute presentation time slot.

2. Burger, Marcel, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Conflicting Journalistic Styles and Textual Production: The Oral Negotiations Preceding the Inscription of Media
Discourse

Marcel really impressed the audience with his data. Recurring question during the discussion afterwards: how in the world did you get this sort of access?

3. McKay, Susan & Fitzgerald, Richard, The University of Queensland, Australia
News Language in Contemporary Media Environments

How do broadcast news media target niche audiences? Answer: by converging production formats with consumption formats. The news studio has become a domestic space of consumption, complete with arm chairs, dinner tables and sofas – and the conversationalized register that these settings elicit.

4. Owen, Thomas, Massey University, New Zealand
Representations of Global Governance in Press Coverage of the Access to Medicines Debate

A corpus analytical study of a (quintessentially) globalized public discourse: access to medicines. Thomas is a very talented speaker and his data speak to issues of governance, agency, equality and nation-states.

Two observations:

  • 15 min. presentation time and 5 min of Q&A is really short. I’m much more comfortable in the traditional 20min-10min format.
  • I would like to blog about another presentation I saw, but honestly, it is beyond my descriptive abilities.

Update:

SBS Radio and @UOMmedia are providing excellent live coverage of the J21C conference.





IPrA panel on collaborative news writing

14 07 2009

Takeaways from the 11th Int’l Pragmatics Conference in Melbourne:

  • Don Bysouth’s research on ‘teasing’ by American service personnel in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan – oh, the boredom of warfare
  • Val Williams’ inclusive research – empowering people with learning disabilities: feel-good applied linguistics research
  • Conference clichés: “So when did you arrive?”, “That’s really interesting, thank you”, “So what part of the States are you from, Tom?”, “And how’s your PhD coming along?”
  • Daniel Perrin’s social skills and networking expertise – in a class of his own
From L-R: Aloxe Jetlag, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours on the plane' Perrin, Lut Baten, Val Williams

From L-R: A still jetlagged yours truly, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours' Perrin, Lut Baten and Val Williams @ the IPrA conference opening reception

  • Marcel Burger’s jaw-dropping data – turning the process of television journalism inside out
  • the thematic coherence of and audience response to our panel on news production – thank you

Collaborative news writing: A discursive perspective on news production
Convenors: Daniel Perrin, Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout

Panel line-up

  • Daniel Perrin – “Let the pictures do the talking” – Investigating TV journalists’ collaborative text production strategies
  • Tom Van Hout & Ellen Van Praet Buy or sell? The role of consumption and authorship in financial news writing
  • Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout – Competence on display: negotiating status during editorial meetings
  • Marcel Burger – Dealing with conflicting journalistic styles to achieve texts: oral negotiation of written media discourse
  • Inés Olza – The role of metaphor in news production: Political metaphors in “preformulated” media texts
  • Jasper Vandenberghe – New Spanish conquistadores? Newspaper articles and press releases on Spanish foreign investments in Argentina.




Practice is the new black in social science

10 06 2009

In his introduction to his forthcoming book, Theorising Media and Practice (available here), John Postill takes a stab at the ubiquitous yet seldom defined use of the word ‘practice(s)’ in media anthropology. He has point; social science loves the term but is slow to point out what social/cultural/discursive practices actually refer to.

I did a quick search of my own usage of the word ‘practice’ in my introduction to my PhD and found no fewer than 48 instances. I talk about situated, discursive, interpretive, journalistic, professional, representational, sense-making, (re-)entextualization, new media, news production and intertextual practices without defining the word practice. That’s poor terminology.

John’s definition is surprisingly simple and perhaps sufficient for my own purposes:

“Practices are the embodied sets of activities that humans perform with varying degrees of commitment, competence and flair”

How do you understand/use the term ‘practice’ in your research?

Postill, John (forthcoming). Introduction: Theorising media and practice. In Birgit Bräuchler and John Postill (eds.), Theorising Media and Practice. New York: Berghahn.