Judith Reynold’s paper wins prize

PhD student and member of the Researching Multilingually at Borders team Judith Reynolds, Durham University, presented a paper at the British Association for Applied Linguistics 2017 Annual Conference at Leeds University in September 2017. This paper won the Richard Pemberton Prize for the best postgraduate paper! Read the confirmatory announcement here.

The paper is entitled “Relational work and managing difficult messages in giving refugee legal advice”.  The abstract of the paper is as follows:

This paper presents data from a linguistic ethnographic study of legal advice giving to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.  In it I discuss relational work, and how linguistic and cultural resources are variously drawn upon in the building of a relationship of trust between lawyer and client.  Establishing this relationship is of central importance for effective advice-giving and -receiving in the communicative context of refugee and asylum law, within which the client is likely to have been treated with mistrust and disbelief in his or her previous interactions with the law and institutional representatives.

The data were collected in a not-for-profit legal advice service in one of England’s major cities during 2016. They comprise a corpus of audio recordings and observational notes of advice meetings between one immigration lawyer and a range of clients, and fieldwork notes created as part of ethnographic observation work.  In the interactional data, relational work featured as one of a number of tools used by the lawyer to communicate effectively with her clients, who come from a range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. 

These data can be seen as an example of face work (Brown and Levinson, 1987) operating in an intercultural, and sometimes multilingual, environment.  In the paper I draw on Spencer-Oatey’s (2008) rapport management framework to discuss aspects of relational work and face work in this context, including how shared contexts are brought into the interaction to express understanding or foreground shared identities, how empathic work and the expression of emotion function in these interactions, and the affordances and constraints of doing such work with and through interpreters.

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Restrained movements express misery, agony and strength

Reproduced from Arts Ghana (published 12 August 2017) with permission from the author John Owoo.

By John Owoo

(On the hills of Dodowa – Ghana)

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A dance piece titled “Idioms of Distress, Wellbeing and Resilience” recently enchanted a cheering audience at the Noyam African Dance Institute, which is located on the hills of Dodowa, near Accra.

Directed by Prof. Alison Phipps / Gameli Tordzro and devised by Cynthia Onoma / Akwei Addotey, the young Noyam dancers showcased extraordinary movements that transmitted images of anguish, comfort and resilience among diverse communities.

With references to Akan idioms of expression and funeral rites of the Dangbe District of the Greater Accra region, the artists explored formal dance practises and expressive theatricality as diverse languages including Ga, Adangbe, Twi, Ewe, Shona (Zimbabwe), Lusoga (Uganda), English, French and Arabic flowed from the stage.

Interspersed with imaginative projections of poetry from team members who could not make the trip due to visa difficulties – a situation, which equally befell the dancers on a recent trip to Europe – the artists appeared to perform with blunt, raw and quite engaging honesty.

“I hope that this project continues to inspire these young artists to create, feel empowered and explore their own artistic voice, while highlighting a sense of community and voicing out issues through their agile and talented bodies”, said Joe Attim, a journalist in Accra.

With academic inputs from Professors Kofi Anyidoho / Kofi Agyekum, Ross White, Bella Hoogeveen, Giovanna Fassetta, Nii Tete Yartey and others during the research stage, the piece equally employed the use of Adangbe proverbs, folk tales from the Buganda traditions in Uganda as well as a variety of sounds, which added to the diversity and beauty of the performance.

Alongside refreshing music composed by Gameli Tordzro with inflections of tradition Ugandan music by Roscoe Kasujja / Obed Kasule and costume design by Naa Dansua Tordzro, the piece, which is laced with brilliant multilingual monologues, is an issues driven production that is deeply intensive and focused.

Refreshing solos by Addotey with huge calabashes together with communicative duets and movements in unison turned the performance into a visually stimulating one – indeed, one that would compel those who hate dance to take a new approach.

Undeniably, “Idioms of Distress, Wellbeing and Resilience” is proof that by coming together, we can create our own reality – undeniably, we can build a community wherever we are.

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Press release: Arts and Humanities Research Council Global Challenge Research Fund Idioms of Distress, Wellbeing and Resilience

By Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow

The language used to express pain, joy and resilience is a vital well of understanding for those seeking to treat and mitigate distress. In populations of displaced peoples and refugees across the world the effects of trauma caused by loss and suffering are felt acutely. Mental health practitioners tend, however, to overlook the important of the languages used to express distress and to use more technical, medical terms than those that we might use in our everyday life, in our proverbs and songs.

Prof Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow, with its affliates at the University of Ghana, Legon and Islamic University of Gaza is leading a team of researchers in Ghana at present. The researchers are examining the way in which people express their distress and develop ways of coping with distress in many different languages. From the Arabic of the Gaza strip and the on-going siege, to the languages of refugees and displaced peoples and ethnic groups in Northern Uganda, to refugee young people in Scotland, to those enduring the loss of cultural heritage in Zimbabwe, linguists, artists and global mental health researchers together with clinical psychologists are engaged in a unique project.

Words, proverbs and phrases have been collected in these different contexts and the common themes and important differences have been analysed. This is helping with more accurate diagnosis of forms of trauma or distress but also providing an vital well of support from indigenous knowledges, readily available. In the wisdom contained in oral history and proverbs the ways people have coped with distress can be revealed and show an important link to the land, to customs, to food and song.

As well as publishing academic findings the team are also working with Noyam African Dance Institute, under the leadership of Nii-Tete Yartey, to explore the sounds, music and languages and to express these in dance. The dances help reveal a world of assistance and substance beyond that of the medical or clinical setting. Gameli Tordzro and Naa Densua Tordzro are leading the artistic work, which includes a production focusing on the distress caused by separation of families and peoples by borders, not least for refugees but also for others caught in the web of entanglements which is the experience of visa application and refusal processes. In addition, the team are presenting making a documentary about their work with Noyam. This includes recording the experiences of the Noyam young people who recently visited Scotland to perform as headline acts at the annual Solas Festival, as well as performing for the inaugural lecture of the UNESCO Chair at the University of Glasgow.

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Global Mental Health: A category benefiting from its contesting?

By Ross White, University of Liverpool

On the 5th and 6th June Kings Health Partnership in conjunction with King’s College London hosted a conference entitled: ‘Global Mental Health and Psychosocial Support’ that was held at the KCL Waterloo campus. The conference was well attended with over 300 clinicians, researchers and students present. True to the focus of the conference there was also a good range of overseas speakers from countries such as Libya, Palestine, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

I was invited to speak about work that I have been involved with relating to the adaptability of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in sub-Saharan Africa. My presentation was part of the ‘Interventions in Global Mental Health’ session on the first day. Other sessions at the conference focused on themes such as ‘Reverse Innovation & Mutual Learning’, ‘Models of Partnership’, ‘Working with Trauma and in Conflict Situations’, ‘Helping the Helpers’, ‘Insights from the Field: NGO work’, ‘The Ethics and Politics of Global Mental Health’, ‘Training and Sustainability’, ‘Working with International and National Policy’ and ‘Acceleration and Scaling Up’. It was a very rich 2 days with a lot of thought-provoking material presented. In particular the panel discussions that were sprinkled liberally through the programme facilitated interesting discussion and, sometimes frank, exchanges of views. The organisers (Elaine Hunter, Alison Beck and Tope Ademosu) deserve great credit for ensuring diverse perspectives on GMH were presented.

This blog entry is intended to summarise some of the key points for reflection that arose for me across the two days. Readers who are active on Twitter may also wish to check out #KHPGMH2017 which captures the thoughts of others who attended.

Should we be doing global mental health at all?

GMH as an area of study, research and practice is principally concerned with addressing inequities in mental health provision across the globe. The lack of infrastructure (as recognized by high-income countries) for managing mental health problems in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) has meant that a great deal of GMH attention thus far has fallen on LMIC. But this has led to accusations that GMH is founded on skewed, ethnocentric assumptions about what mental health services should be and that GMH is a Trojan horse that seeks to globalize psychiatric systems of care. However, these accusations have in turn been criticized as reductive misrepresentations of diverse approaches that are increasingly sensitive to the needs and views of local stakeholders. For those interested to read more about the development of GMH and related debates, the introductory chapter to The Palgrave Handbook of Socio-cultural Perspectives of Global Mental Health which is entitled ‘Situating Global Mental Health: Socio-cultural Perspectives’ may be of interest.

It was clear that many of the presentations, my own included, focused on the adaptation and/or scaling-up of psychosocial/psychological interventions that had been developed in high-income countries that were now being countries. This may be attributable to the fact that a wealth of psychological interventions have been manualised in high-income countries, and the evidence-base for these interventions has largely been established in high-income countries. Inevitably the content of these interventions has been influenced by the way in which people living in high-income countries experience, conceptualize and articulate their experiences. The suggestion is that these processes vary according to the local cultural and linguistic context, which gives rise to diverse ‘ethnopsychologies’. Unsurprisingly, an issue that arose at the conference was the extent to which it is appropriate to ‘export’ psychological interventions from HIC to LMIC, and whether it is appropriate for people from HIC to even work in LMIC. The possibility remains that there are approaches that originate in LMIC that may be effective for addressing distress that people experience there. In particular, approaches that are different from the allopathic approaches of the West, which from a Western perspective are some-what dismissively referred to as ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary forms’ of support (e.g. traditional healing, or faith healing) may represent affordable, acceptable, culturally appropriate, and effective strategies for managing distress.

Unfortunately, presentations focusing on indigenous forms of (psychosocial) support were sadly lacking from the conference schedule. This was disappointing given the findings of the review conducted by Nortje et al. (2016) that synthesized findings from 32 studies (conducted in 20 different countries) that investigated the efficacy of traditional healers for addressing mental disorders. The review concluded that traditional healers ‘might help to relieve distress and improve mild symptoms in common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety’ (Nortje et al., 2016, P154). There is increasing recognition of the importance of working with alternative/complementary practitioners as they represent a group of stakeholders that people in LMIC have engaged with for generations to address distress. Collaborations of this type must reflect on the merits and demerits of each other’s respective approaches whilst guarding against of the risk of ethnocentric subjugation of ways of knowing and practicing that are unfamiliar to them. Navigating these challenging metaphorical waters will be tricky. However, adhering to a rights-based approach that prioritizes opportunities for enhanced citizenship of people will be helpful.

For a number of presenters at the conference (particularly some of those in ‘The Ethics and Politics of Global Mental Health’ session) were of the opinion that GMH as an endeavor was a potentially flawed project due to the inherent skewing towards Western perspectives. Angela Byrne’s presentation bore the forthright title ‘Why I chose to stop working internationally’. Angela expressed with great honestly and authenticity her concerns about the risk of harm being wrought by, albeit well intentioned, people intervening in cultural contexts that they are unfamiliar with. She highlighted the risk that the potential to ‘the silence of local people’ in supposed collaborative international partnerships bears testament to these issues. In highlighting a range of cultural and linguistic barriers to doing international mental health related work, Angela noted that if you cannot speak the language(s) of the place where you are going to be working, then you are a drain on their resources. Angela’s presentation highlighted the importance of people paying close attention to their reasons for engaging in international work and the costs, as well as the benefits, of this involvement. Practitioners will need to be mindful of the implicit, as well as more explicit, assumptions and biases that they bring to this work. In particular, it will be important to be vigilant to the positions of power that can emerge when identifying closely with professional and disciplinary knowledge. All forms of professional training have blind-spots, which may become particularly exposed when applied in different contexts. The lack of flexibility that professionals adopt has been referred to as the ‘tyranny of experts’ by William Easterly. Local stakeholders can also contribute to these power dynamics by adopting an attitude of resistance to interventions, or indeed by taking an overly deferential position to international experts [i.e. Kristen Edquist (2008) highlighted the risk that international agencies might constitute ‘mental health assemblages’ that could serve to globalize pathologies]. Where possible, it will be vital to make explicit the assumptions that are inherent to the theoretical models that are informing international work. Discussing these assumptions with a diverse range of relevant stakeholders should be a key feature of the preparation for the work.

The harm of doing vs. the harm of not doing

Whilst acknowledging the need for cultural sensitivity, and caution with regard to the power dynamics in how knowledge is brokered, I would counter that people should not exclude themselves from international mental health related work on the basis that they not from the local cultural and linguistic context in which the work is taking place. This could amount to what I would term ‘ethnopsychological acquiescence’, where people prefer not to act or intervene on the basis that they do not know enough about how distress is experienced, conceptualized and articulated in that context. I agree that there is a need to progress with care, but by working in partnership with local stakeholders and adopting paradigm humility (where we hold our world view and associated assumptions about paradigm lightly) opportunities for fruitful, enriching and productive collaborations exist. The nature of the work itself is a central consideration, but equally the attitude that people bring to this work is key. In being mindful of the risk of doing no harm, we must also be aware of the limiting impact that inaction may have on efforts to improve mental wellbeing across the globe.

The Politics of Identity

Over the course of the two days the politics of identity, and the privilege that particular identities can imbibe, was a theme that emerged in a number of presentations and associated discussions. Nimisha Patel in her talk entitled ‘The mantra of do no harm: International healthcare responses to refugee people and human rights violations’ spoke passionately about the need to acknowledge the long-shadow that ‘whiteness’ casts over international mental health work, and how power is disproportionately distributed in this work. She argued, persuasively, for the need to prioritise a human-rights based approach that tackles the social injustices that underlie the distress that people experience across the world, and for people to eschew the inclination to be a bystander to injustices being committed.

As a white male, aspects of Nimisha’s presentation made for uncomfortable but important listening.

It provided an opportunity to acknowledge how the ‘privileges’ that come with being white, male and born in a HIC have afforded me with particular opportunities to learn about mental health in international contexts. My circumstances also provided me, but not others (particularly my LMIC-based collaborators), with the opportunity to attend this particular conference. Nimisha’s points were very well made. She speaks with great grace and wisdom. But in recognising the power imbalances that various forms of privilege can bring (and endeavouring to address injustices associated with this), we need to be aware of the importance of avoiding stereotyping in all its forms. Efforts aimed at promoting the rights of disenfranchised groups  (e.g. minority groups, those living in low resource settings, and those experiencing mental health difficulties) should not denigrate the humanity of other groups. My upbringing in Northern Ireland brought into sharp focus the importance of reconciling injustices and transforming conflict, but it has also made me very wary of discourses that can serve to ‘other’ groups of people.

I addressed issues relating to GMH and identity politics in the final panel discussion of the conference when I spoke about how these discussions had impacted on me. Whilst being aware of the crucial importance of acknowledging injustices that have been perpetrated against particular groups of people, and the need to respect diversity, I also feel that it is vitally important we acknowledge the common humanity that is shared across different identities. These issues were discussed in the aftermath of the last US election with some commentators reflecting on the need for what has been termed ‘post-identity liberalism’ i.e. a move towards acknowledging diversity, whilst embracing commonality and promoting solidarity. I think it is fair to assume that the vast majority of people who were present at the conference share a commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of people experiencing distress across the globe – a common cause that people can work together to advance. I think the organisers of the conference deserve enormous credit for trying to create a space for different diverse discourses to be shared, but moving forward the challenge for GMH will be to ensure that marginalised voices (many of which were not represented at the conference) are also heard, and that this can make a meaningful contribution to shaping the sense of shared humanity and solidarity it can engender.

‘Flows’ of Knowledge

In acknowledgement of the need to improve mental health services in HIC, interest is growing in how insights from GMH can help to promote innovation and improved effectiveness of mental health services in HIC. This is a topic that colleagues and I have reflected on in recent papers that we have published e.g. the editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry by Sashidhrana et al. (2014) entitled ‘Global Mental Health in High-income Countries’ (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/209/1/3). Despite the hard work and commitment of various stakeholders, if a school report was to be issued about mental health services in HICs it would read ‘Could do better’. Martha Nussbaum (2011) has previously commented that ‘All nations are ‘developing’…All are failing at the aim of ensuring dignity & opportunity for each person’. This is exemplified, by the fact that there are large proportions of the population in the UK who are underserved by mental health services. Angela Byrne’s presentation included a quote that debunked the myth (perpetuated by policy makers and services) that these populations are ‘hard to reach,’ – it stated ‘we are not hard to reach, we’re just easy to ignore’. It may be that mental health services in the UK could be more inclusive of diverse explanatory models of mental health difficulties, and work more closely with stakeholders who are knowledgeable about these explanatory models (e.g. religious leaders, practitioners of Chinese Traditional Medicine etc.) to deliver forms of intervention that are acceptable to greater proportions of our populations can engage with. It will be important for there to be an open and equitable exchanging of knowledge between different stakeholders to avoid what Miranda Fricker (2009) has referred to as ‘epistemic injustices’ i.e. when people are wronged in their capacity to be knowers.

Consistent with this idea of HIC learning from LMIC, the conference had a dedicated stream called ‘reverse innovation’. This has been referred elsewhere as ‘reverse engineering’. Angela Byrne, a clinical psychologist who has experience of international work, stated at the conference that the use of the word ‘Reverse’ takes for granted that there is a normative direction of innovation and that this may be problematic. Similarly, Lord Nigel Crisp in his key-note speech indicated that he does not like the term and the condescending connotations that it conjures. In my writing about GMH, I along with my colleagues have introduced the term ‘counterflows for global mental wellbeing’ (White et al., 2014) to specifically capture the way in which for too long people living in LMIC have been regarded as recipients of knowledge rather than generators of knowledge about mental health, and that there is a need for people in HIC to be receptive to potentially helpful knowledge that runs counter to the prevailing direction of knowledge (i.e. from HIC to LMIC).

Treatment and Prevention

During his key-note speech, Vikram Patel reflected on the tensions that exists between focusing resource on ‘treating’ mental health difficulties vs. investing in preventive approaches aimed at addressing the social determinants that contribute to mental health problems. He suggested that claims that all resources should be directed to preventative strategies, is like saying TB should be controlled simply by ending poverty. Equally, however, he could have observed that focusing on ‘treatments’ without adequately addressing the social contexts in which people live their lives (and the associated poverty, marginalization and disempowerment that large proportions of the global population experience) would be akin to treating someone for cholera without addressing the source of the infection. One of the slides used by a presenter in their PowerPoint presentation captured this sentiment by including a quote from the WHO European Office that stated that ‘Modern societies actively market unhealthy lifestyles’. Careful attention needs to be paid to striking a balance between investing in treatment and prevention programmes.

The ethics of diagnosis

The key-note by Vikram Patel was also cause for reflection on the ethical ‘elephant in the room’ that has loomed large in debates relating to the merits and demerits of GMH initiatives. This relates to the concerns have been expressed by people such as Derek Summerfield, China Mills (who both presented at the conference) and myself, about the use of psychiatric diagnosis in LMIC when concerns have been raised about the validity and reliability of these systems in HIC. Indeed, concerted efforts are being made by clinicians and academics in the UK to propose alternative frameworks to diagnosis (e.g. the Power-Threat-Meaning framework). Patrick Hughes who presented in his capacity as a WHO consultant for the mhGAP programme remarked that there is considerable pressure to make diagnoses in international mental health work that he has undertaken because this fits into the recording systems that international agencies use. Vikram Patel noted that in spite of concerns about concerns about the validity of psychiatric diagnoses (that can mean that some researchers decide not to share diagnoses with research participants recruited in LMIC), there are also imperatives for using diagnostic categories in research settings as this ‘gets papers published’. There is an urgent need for the scientific community to engage in dialogue about this unsatisfactory and potentially harmful approach. Perhaps this is an issue that the upcoming Third Series on Global Mental Health commissioned by The Lancet will address. It is too important an issue not to be focused on.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr Nargis Islam (Clinical Psychologist) who also attended the conference, and who provided helpful comments and suggestions about the content of this blog entry.


Edquist, K. (2008). Globalizing pathologies: mental health assemblage and spreading diagnoses of eating disorders. International Political Sociology, 2(4), 375-391.

Fricker, M. (2009) Epistemic Injustice: Ethics and the power of knowing. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Nortje, G., Oladeji, B., Gureje, O., & Seedat, S. (2016). Effectiveness of traditional healers in treating mental disorders: a systematic review. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(2), 154-170.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2011). Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Harvard University Press: US.

Sashidharan, S.P., White, R.G., Mezzina, R., Jansen, S., Gishoma, D. (2016). Global Mental Health in High Income Countries (Editorial). British Journal of Psychiatry, 209, 3-5.

White, R.G., Jain, S., and Giurgi-Oncu, C. (2014) Counterflows for mental well-being: What high-income countries can learn from Low and middle-income countries. International Review of Psychiatry, 26, 602-606.

White, R.G., Jain, S., Orr, D., & Read, S. (Editors) (2017) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Socio-cultural Perspectives. Palgrave-Macmillan. Download here.

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Call for papers

Critical Multilingualism Studies have issued a new call for papers for a special volume on “Multilingualism in contexts of migration and refuge,” which you can find on the CMSsite here.

The timeline for this call is:
Full papers due: September 1, 2017
Papers out for blind review: September-­November 2017
Revisions for papers due: March 15, 2018
Publication of special issue: May-­June 2018

They are also developing a new section of Critical Multilingualism Studies, for Translation Reviews. The call for proposals is here.

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Looking, listening and seeing inside the law box

By Jane Andrews, University of the West of England

Overview of the day

Colleagues from the creative arts hub of the RM project collaborated with colleagues from Case Study 2 (project title: Translating Vulnerability and Silence into the Legal Process) and from the researching multilingually hub on a one day internal project symposium (Friday 2nd December 2016, University of Glasgow) to explore diverse perspectives on themes emerging from research in legal contexts. The day had a retrospective aspect (discussing responses to a shared experience of an Arizona court room in March 2016), a reporting back aspect (colleagues researching in legal contexts in Scotland and England shared emerging insights from ethnographic observation work), an experiential aspect (a performed role play, an individual experience of silence and a symbolic posting of messages to fill a ‘jar of silence’) and a discursive aspect across disciplinary, professional and practice boundaries (including virtual involvement of colleagues from Arizona and London).  In the sections below we provide some insights into the way in which we engaged together on issues of the law as practiced in relation to immigration cases in particular contexts, individuals’ experiences of hearing and being heard (or not), and diverse uses of languages and silences.

Operation Streamline , USA – reflections on first-hand experiences and discussion of the law and activism

A discussion of “Operation Streamline” took place from our multiple perspectives – as creative artists, applied linguists, intercultural communication experts, anthropologsts, education specialists, literature specialists as well as legal academics. The discussion was informed by first-hand experience of attending a court hearing in Tucson, Arizona in March 2016 for some participants and for others by a reading of Doug Keller’s article “Re-thinking Illegal Entry and Re-entry” (2012) Loyola University Chicago Law Journal Vol 44, 65-138. The article explains the “criminalisation” of immigration control procedures in the USA, culminating in “Operation Streamline” and provides a valuable chronology of the time leading up to the implementation of OS. This video also fed into our developing understanding of how activists are challenging OS.

Researching on Detention and Bail: the Immigration Bail Observation Project Scotland (IBOPS)

Sarah Craig, Anna Beesley and Susannah Paul have been involved in the Bail Observation Project. They reported and reflected on their IBOPS findings. Taking into account the distinctiveness of the physical and communicative context in which bail hearings take place and the high stakes nature of the experience for people in immigration detention, the researchers chose to collaborate with project creative artists to develop a fictionalised role play to be performed to colleagues to convey the communicative challenges inherent in this context. The audience witnessed communication and miscommunication taking place via a laptop, partial translations and interpretations, and the general display of powerfulness and powerlessness within this complex scenario.

Creative arts practice as a way of connecting researchers with contexts and experiences

In keeping with the experiential nature of this day involving our developing understandings of immigration processes in practice, time was given to creative arts practice stimulating our thinking about these three questions posed by Sarah Craig and Karin Zwaan

  1. If silence could be heard, what would it sound like?
  2. What needs to be silenced for you to be heard?
  3. Who needs to speak for you to be heard?

The questions were designed to be considered through these activities:

(1) the “jar of silence”; In this experience participants wrote thoughts on strips of paper relating to their hopes for how people in the immigration and asylum process can be heard better. The slips of paper were then posted into a jar, thus filling the jar of silence;

(2) listening to what “silence” sounds like in the calabash and other instruments, and reflecting on the questions that way.

How do lawyers and their clients bridge languages and cultures? –Judith Reynolds’ doctoral research

Judith Reynolds’ doctoral research provides in depth insights into the nature of communication between asylum applicants and refugees and the lawyers who advise them. Judith’s research is attentive to how trust is constructed between those interacting together and their uses of language to build bridges as well as negotiate the complexities of the legal context. Judith’s methodology is driven by linguistic ethnography which allows her to explore translanguaging in interactions and uses of tools such as smart phones to access information and translation tools.

Researching Multilingually – Some ways of conceptualising the area and practices

The role of the Researching Multilingually hub within the large project is to look across the case studies and the work of the creative arts hub seeking to understand ways in which language is used to support or hinder communication and understanding in complex contexts of pain and pressure at border sites. As such the final part of the day involved a brief update on recent work that the hub had been developing in terms of learning from diverse disciplines and theoretical work to shed light on the project’s work. Particular attention was given to the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999/2012) “Decolonising methodologies – Research and indigenous peoples” on how research needs to be reconceptualised as an act of “radical compassion” which serves the function of “getting the story right, telling the story well”. After a day of developing our understandings of how stories are told in high stakes legal contexts, this message was particularly powerful.

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New MOOC run starts today – 9 January 2017

The fourth run of our successful Massive Open Online Course will start today. You are all invited to join this free 3-week course, available through the Future Learn website:


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By David Gramling, University of Arizona

Dodowa is a town west of Accra with red-dirt roads, loads of free-roaming chickens, heavy-laden plantain trees, and a steady incline up from the Accra seacoast toward the mountains. When in Dodowa you ask directions to Noyam, people will not seem to know how to direct you. But if you say “National Theater,” they will point you up the road to Noyam. It is a big cement structure on a slope near a river, about the size of a small city church. There’s room enough in it for a large dance ensemble (of 20-25 members) to dilate comfortably onstage, and for about two hundred more to sit in the audience, before the stage or in the balcony. Noyam seems always somehow under construction and on the verge of discontinuation due to lack of resources, but in the off-hours (when official rehearsal and tech work is done), the young people of the Noyam company hold the stage deep into the evening—free-styling, playing the booming sound system, and greeting the neighborhood cats and birds that wander in.

Normally, we might translate the local word “Noyam” into English as “development”—but that word has a range of entanglements, histories, and usages that Noyam, in the local languages, does not.

Yes, the company (including cooks, taxi-drivers, dancers, support personnel, researchers, tech designers, choreographers, dramaturges, costume designers, and toddlers) is collaboratively “developing” a piece of musical dance theater. Yes, the company is also “developing” its company members’ technical capacities and its sense of multilingual and intercosmological community. Yes, Noyam is “developing” a new hub of creative livelihood in Dodowa, Accra, and Ghana. Yes, Noyam is “developing” a new method of working and creating (indeed, researching) multilingually—across Twi, Dangwe, Ewe, English, French, Danish, Arabic, and other enumerable languages.

But what else is Noyam doing? Speaking only for myself, I experienced at Noyam profound new forms of belief, hope, and dialogue—of seriousness-in-play and care-in-movement. From the dishwashers to the dramaturges, a sense of unabating respect, gentleness, ease, and accountability partnered the creative work from notion to idea, from devising to staging. For me as a relatively traditional (read: stodgy) university-based researcher / writer, what Noyam did was to recenter the world for me around new methodological and aesthetic principles that are at once accommodating and uncompromising. After working at Noyam, for instance, I will no longer be willing to uphold the fictional distinction between research and creative practice, between humanities, social sciences, and fine arts, nor between teacher and taught.

As the time passed at Noyam, the young people grew more and more comfortable making jokes about me, asking me questions, inviting me into their meals, bestowing upon me ever-new and often unflattering nicknames. I became less isolated and unsure of my position in the space, and came to believe that a complex but thoroughgoing good faith was the only idiom that mattered here. The conversion experience was social, aesthetic, spiritual, and political for me at once—and I am only now beginning to understand its contours a bit. What I can do, perhaps all I can do for now, upon going home to Arizona, is to hold this work that Noyam has welcomed me into—as a kind of “true north” for what it is that engaged scholarship is asked to do in a suffering but healable world.


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How researchers can draw on their multilingual resources when undertaking their research: “Researching Multilingually” doctoral researcher workshops

By Prue Holmes, Durham University

Doctoral researchers, when undertaking their research, must often work multilingually during various phases of their project, e.g., with supervisors, gatekeepers and participants in the research site, translators and interpreters, people in the community in the data collection and dissemination phases, and with multilingual discursive artefacts. Or researchers may find that their monolingual practices—whether in their first language or another—are challenged by their interlocutors in the research context. Yet, our research has found that, while there are pockets of multilingual practice in the literature, there are few established resources available to researchers (Holmes, Fay, Andrews, Attia, 2013). While some universities in some countries (e.g., Germany, Luxembourg) embrace the use of more than one language in doctoral theses, in many universities, e.g., in the Anglo-speaking world in particular, a monolingual approach prevails: English is prioritised, de rigueur, as the language of communication, along with monolingual expectations and practices. In this researcher context, doctoral researchers will find little guidance from methodology textbooks and doctoral training programmes (e.g., those offered by the ESRC) on how to draw on their multilingual resources in the doctoral research process; further, their supervisors are likely to be tied to the monolingual policies and practices present in these Anglo-speaking universities.

To address this need, an important strand of the “Researching multilingually at borders” project has involved developing and offering workshops to doctoral students. The workshops aim to develop doctoral researchers’ awareness of the affordances and opportunities of their linguistic resources in the research process, and how they might draw on these resources as they plan their study, undertake their literature review, make methodological choices, and present their data and/or multilingual artefacts in their thesis and publications. Through our research (in both the earlier “Researching multilingually” network project (AH/J005037/1), and the current “Researching multilingually at borders” project (AH/L006936/1), we have found that doctoral students are not always aware of the possibilities of including other languages in their research. For example, typical questions are: “am I allowed to include Chinese references in my literature review”, “which languages should I analyse my interviews in: Russian or English?”, “should I translate all of my data from Arabic to English?”, “can I present my data in my thesis in another language and translate it, or should it all be in English?”. Through our research, we have found that doctoral students express unawareness of the opportunities and complexities afforded by their multilingual researcher resources, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence and agency. (See Holmes, Fay, Andrews, & Attia, 2016, for a more detailed account of how researchers can draw on their multilingual researcher resources in the research process).

The “Researching Multilingually” Translating Cultures (RMTC) hub have given several workshops on this theme. In the workshops we explain our theoretical approach to researching multilingually, which includes researchers making intentional choices, recognising and accommodating the research/researcher spaces and contexts of the research, managing multilingual and intercultural relationships, and responding to ethical issues posed by the presence of multiple languages in the research site. We illustrate these opportunities and challenges through case studies, as well as the experiences of the workshop participants.

The most recent workshop was to doctoral researchers in the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, in July 2016. Of the 15 participants, only one had English as a first language; the remainder were international students from non-English backgrounds, and all had experience of engaging in and/or with multiple languages in their research contexts.

Realising the value of our doctoral workshops, the AHRC funded a workshop for Arts and Humanities doctoral researchers in London in February, 2016. Again, the researchers came from multiple language backgrounds, and from multiple disciplines in the arts and humanities and social sciences; their multilingual data drew from human interaction, digital and media communication, and artefacts.

We have also offered workshops at two doctoral summer schools at the University of Helsinki; at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland; and at the University of Cambridge. Our very first workshop was supported by the North-East Doctoral Training Centre at Durham University and emerged out of our initial “Researching Multilingually” project (AH/J005037/1).

The next doctoral workshops are:

Researchers’ linguistic resources and their impact on the doctoral experience” Thursday, 20th October, 2016, 11.00-16.00, Durham University (which precedes the project conference “Education and Migration: Languages Foregrounded”);

“Researching multilingually: Possibilities and complexities” Saturday, 21st January, 2017, 11.00-17.00, Senate House, University of London.

If you would like to know more about these workshops, or you would like to attend, please contact Dr Prue Holmes p.m.holmes@durham.ac.uk or Dr Mariam Attia mariam.attia@durham.ac.uk.

The “Researching Multilingually Translating Cultures” (RMTC) hub members are: Prue Holmes, Richard Fay, Jane Andrews, Mariam Attia


Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J., Attia, M. (2013). Researching multilingually: New theoretical and methodological directions. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 23(3), 285-299.

Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J., & Attia, M. (2016). How to research multilingually: Possibilities and complexities. In H. Zhu (Ed.) Research methods in intercultural communication (pp. 88-102). London: Wiley.

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New MOOC run starts 7 November


The third run of our successful Massive Open Online Course will start on the 7th of November. You are all invited to join this free 3-week course, available through the Future Learn website:


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