Reflexivity and Positionality in Linguistic Ethnography

UWE, 3 June 2019

Invited Speaker Abstracts

Exploring the impact of the researcher in linguistic ethnographic studies: Linguistic choices in the presentation of self and performance in interaction

Jane Andrews, University of the West of England

In this presentation I will draw on my experiences of conducting research in contexts of linguistic diversity such as family homes and schools (e.g. Andrews, 2013) to share examples and pose questions regarding how we present ourselves as researchers in linguistic ethnography and what impact we have on our studies. Copland & Creese (2015) acknowledge important influences on the development of the field of linguistic ethnography from well-known sociologists, sociolinguists and anthropologists, in particular Erving Goffman (1959) and his work on the presentation of self in everyday life and the concept of performance in interactions. The concept of performance in the presentation of self can be applied to interactions which are negotiated monolingually but my focus in this presentation is on interactions in linguistically diverse contexts. More specifically, I explore the researcher’s self-presentation in the different stages of the research process in interactions with research participants and collaborators, including negotiating access, building rapport, discussing ideas and language choices made in these stages. Examples from my own research and that of others (e.g. Chimbutane, 2012) are used to raise questions and explore research possibilities. This leads me to conclude with some reflections on what the researcher’s presentation of self demands of researchers at the stage of what Holliday (2016) refers to as creating a written research account of the study.

Researcher identities: The (re) negotiation of field identities, power and knowledge

Frances Giampapa, University of Bristol

Across critical sociolinguistic and applied linguistic fields there continues to be discussion around the impact of researcher identities, positionality, power and agency on the process of conducting and interpreting research (Giampapa & Lamoureux, 2011; Norton & Early 2011). Growing from these discussions is a broader argument for re-imagining ways of working in the field alongside participants and communities that allow for deeper forms of engagement that co-produce different ways of knowing (Campbell & Lassiter, 2010; Facer & Enright, 2016).

Drawing from a range of critical ethnographic research (Giampapa, 2004, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2019) in Canada and the UK, this presentation explores the ways in which my researcher role, identities and (re)positioning were reframed within discourses of authenticity, legitimacy and power. These discourses framed the interactional practices and the crossing of diverse sites in which I was positioned – at times as an insider/outsider.

What I hope to make visible and underline from this discussion is the complexities of being in the field and the importance and impact of critically reflecting on the multiple positions that we claim and are assigned throughout the research process. I wish to stress the transformative power of field conversations that can shape new ways of being in the field for both researchers and participants.

Shifting positionalities as a researcher working with sign languages and everyday languaging practices

Erin Moriarty Harrelson, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

In this talk, I discuss my shifting positionalities as a researcher working with sign languages and everyday languaging practices. There is ample literature on reflexivity and the research process that focuses on researchers working in contexts in the global South or on researchers working within their “home” communities but these relationships and dynamics are more complex in linguistic ethnographies of deaf people in the global South by researchers who are themselves deaf sign language users.

In 2018, I undertook a seven-month ethnographic research project in Bali, Indonesia that was an examination of emerging communicative practices in deaf tourist encounters. In research with deaf people, there are experiences and practices that are very particular to these contexts and engagements. I will discuss my engagements with research participants who are also deaf themselves, and with hearing people, attending to changing subjectivities in different contexts and experiences, such as communicative successes and failures. My lived experience as a deaf person afforded access to knowledge about the lived deaf experience, allowing for analytical insight; however, this did not necessarily mean complete access to all situated deaf experiences as there are always other intersectional considerations involved. Being deaf, my nationality, skin colour, gender, and age were each significant in my presentation of my own positionality and how other people positioned me, but to varying degrees, depending upon the context and setting.

My subjectivity as a deaf researcher working in linguistic ethnography also usefully informs how I report and disseminate research findings. Lived experiences of being deaf influences the research dynamic in complex and interesting ways. Relationship-building and trust seemed to be more easily achieved with deaf research participants and this carries a responsibility, particularly concerning relations of power, ethics, access and representation, as many deaf people in the Global South do not have equal access to education and textual literacy. There is the possibility that deaf people share the experience of communication barriers, and, in terms of a socio-political project, similar struggles for access but the deaf experience should not be taken as universal.