By Jessica Bradley and Emilee Moore, University of Leeds
We start this blog post with a question: why is it important to understand communication in superdiverse cities? It’s a question that we, as researchers on the TLANG project are considering in detail. Our research across four sites and across four case studies – business, heritage, sport and law – investigates how people communicate across languages and cultures. As the project progresses, we are starting to publish our findings. These are being uploaded as working papers (see here), articulated in conference papers, and blogged about here on the TLANG blog. But why is it important? Not solely for us, as the research team, and for those with whom we are working, but for the wider communities – locally and nationally?
On Friday 13th May 2016 we held the first of two networking assemblies organised by the project at Thinktank Birmingham where we were kindly hostly by our partners Birmingham Museums Trust. Networking assemblies are not simply an opportunity for us to disseminate our research so far. Instead, through them we hope to open up dialogues and to hear people’s responses to our work, how it might be translated and how it might inform different sectors. During the day, community film maker Joel Blackledge was making a film about the event and the team were interviewing attendees about their responses to the day, to the research, and to the question: why might it be important to understand communication in superdiverse cities?
The event included a presentation by the TLANG PI, Angela Creese, as well as two presentations from TLANG co-investigators. Angela Creese started out by presenting an overview of the project aims and structure and defining some key notions. Translanguaging refers to the “discursive practices that constitute speakers’ language repertoires, and make visible their different histories, identities, and heritage”, while translation zones are “spaces of negotiation where connections are created and where translanguaging and translation are features of communication”. In their paper, Zhu Hua and Frances Rock talked about their work with small businesses in Cardiff and in Newham. They asked the question, what else is happening aside from transactions? What can we understand about cities from studying interaction in shops? Adrian Blackledge and James Simpson showed us data from the Birmingham and Leeds heritage case studies in their presentation on everyday heritage. They asked, how do people preserve heritage for the future?
Frances Rock from the Cardiff team
Suzanne Hall (LSE) and Susanne Wessendorf (Birmingham) were invited to present their research in superdiverse contexts. Suzanne Halls’s work is on superdiverse streets (see previous blog post by James Simpson here, and Suzanne’s presentation and data is available here – 160512_TLANG_Presentation and here –SuperDiverseStreets data profile_2015_Birmingham. We found out about her team’s work on Rookery Road in Birmingham, and the importance of healthy back streets to our high streets. Suzanne asked, how we can encourage policy makers to take these businesses and economies seriously?
Susanne Wessendorf’s presentation focused on pioneer migrants and her ethnographic work in Hackney, which explored identities in the superdiverse city. A social anthropologist, Susanne has been researching migration for over a decade. In her presentation she discussed how the ‘diversification of diversity’ (following Steven Vertovec) affects neighbourhoods on a local level. She asked how we can engage with difference without essentialising it? Both presentations were followed by lively question and answer sessions.
The day also involved several cultural reflections. Birmingham Poet Laureate Adrian Blackledge read some of his poems inspired by the Birmingham Bullring Market and Janine Connolly’s (aka Barbara Nice) theatrical piece on unexpected exchanges of heritage got everyone on their feet. We were also impressed by Birmingham Young Poet Laureate Serena Arthur’s poetic response to the heritage theme, and Heather Wastie’s work inspired by the Black Country dialect. One comment on the evaluations stated: “Brilliant! ‘Barbara’ was the highlight. Poets were the stars by sharing their beautiful stories. Absolutely loved it!”
Serena Arthur, Birmingham Young Poet Laureate
Punctuating the day with poetry in this way enabled us as an audience to reflect differently on how we communicate. Barbara Nice allowed us to hear questions asked that we (as academics) would never dream of asking in a forum of this kind (although we might want to!). One of Serena Arthur’s poems which began ‘if home is where the heart is, I must come from a broken home’, had us reflecting on the emotional aspects of moving country, of leaving a place to which you may not be able to return.
Barbara Nice has us all on our feet
More of the day’s highlights were the two panels with different community experts. Orit Azaz, John Bryson, Simon Cane, Jayne Magee and Joe Ng all contributed thought provoking insights on the theme of language business and the city, in a session moderated by TLANG’s Kiran Trehan. In the afternoon, Stacey Bains, Abid Hussain, Mike Robinson, Toby Watley and Brigid Jones engaged in an equally inspiring discussion on the theme of everyday encounters with heritage, moderated by TLANG’s Jenny Phillimore.
Other people who contributed to a very successful day were Tim Softley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Birmingham and Gary Grubb, Associate Director of Programmes at the AHRC. Elizabeth Lanza, Director of the Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo, closed the event with some final reflections on the similarities and differences between the UK case studies and the situation in Norway.
So, back to the question, why is it important to understand communication in superdiverse cities?
Izzy Mohammed, one of the delegates interviewed for the film being made about the day, who has also been involved in the TLANG Project since its inception, summed it up quite succinctly. “It’s important because communication is how we do things – it’s how things get done”. Another delegate stated that through research of this kind we can “find ways to give voice to diversity”.
You can check out the Twitter feed from the day here: