7th December 2017, Pierhead building, Cardiff
By Caroline Tagg, Open University
The location of our second Network Assembly in Cardiff was, as Angela Creese pointed out in her welcome address, particularly apt given that it was in Wales that Cen Williams first introduced the concept of trawsieithu (‘translanguaging’). The Network Assembly focused on the sports and law phases of the TLANG project and attracted a diverse mix of people from third sector organisations and the arts as well as academia, all of us keen to explore changing communication practices in the city. As Jenny Rathbone (of the Welsh National Assembly) put it in her address, it is time to reframe the ‘problem’ of immigration and initiate more nuanced discussions around language, rights and belonging.
Opening our Network Assembly: Jenny Rathbone, AM
Movement in the city
The morning sessions focused on sports, chaired by Janice Thompson of the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham. What emerged most strongly from the morning was the potential of sport to encourage inclusion and the important role of language and communication in facilitating – or hindering – this. Kieran File (University of Warwick) spoke first about the ways in which hierarchies of power are (re)created and sustained through interactional patterns between football players and their coaches, and the need for coaches to reflect critically on their role as source of authority in order to create conditions for greater equality and to support, rather than undermine, social diversity. At the moment, he argued, despite multiculturalism being a norm across Premier League teams, there is the risk that diversity is being ironed out rather than embraced, supported and exploited.
Kieran File speaking at the Network Assembly
In our TLANG presentation, Adrian Blackledge (University of Birmingham) described how a multicultural team of volleyball players in Birmingham draw on a range of diverse resources and rituals to enact and create a team culture, from hands raised in apologies and low fives to embracing and whooping. Zhu Hua (Birkbeck University) similarly showed how karate coach Stan uses various embodied resources alongside multiple languages and registers (English, Polish, Japanese karate terms) in his training sessions in London. Both presentations showed how talk was just a part – albeit a very integrated part – of communicative action.
Much of what they discussed was then embodied in a capoeira performance from Bruno Duque and Mamadu Camara, whose fluid, complex and synchronised movements revealed an ‘invisible language’, as Bruno later called it on the sports discussion panel. And poet and boxer Matt Windle (also a panel discussion member) perhaps summed up the potential for sport to break down barriers and encourage communication when he pointed out that boxers – although from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds across the UK – all nonetheless bleed when they are punched.
Sports discussion panel (right to left, Shushu Chen, Kieran File, Bruno Duque, Matt Windle)
Advocating and involving in the city
In the afternoon we focused on law and legal advice settings in a session chaired by Bharat Malkani of the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University. One of the main themes to come out of the afternoon was the role of language and communication in either amplifying or flattening structural and social inequalities in immigration processes and bureaucratic practices. Eva Codó of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona spoke first about her groundbreaking ethnographic research in immigration offices in Barcelona, focusing on asymmetries of power in bureaucratic interactions related to the relative position of migrants and their advisors in the social structure, and calling for greater understanding through research of the places and spaces of immigration law advice.
In their TLANG presentation, James Simpson (University of Leeds) and Frances Rock (Cardiff University) showed how two individuals involved in giving legal advice to immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK worked to flatten inequalities in knowledge (and language) through communicative encounters with their clients. This could often only be achieved through translanguaging and translation, as they drew on interpreters to ensure that clients could be in a position to know and act on that knowledge. Communicative encounters in these legal advice settings are highly cooperative, as both lay and legal participants share information and reach agreed understandings, working together to reduce inequalities in knowledge. The law discussion panel that followed set these ideas in context, raising issues about cuts to funding and people who fall through the safety net, as well as how to harness the valuable but risky resource of community interpreters.
Law discussion panel (from left to right, Nimrod Ben-Cnaan of Law Centres Network; Gwennan Higham of Swansea University; Fizza Qureshi of Migrants’ Rights Network; James Sandbach of LawWorks and Bernadette Rainey of the Cardiff Law School)
Engaging with communities
In his opening words, Charles Forsdick, AHRC theme fellow for Translating Cultures, highlighted the need for research to go beyond academia, and this was a theme which our participants returned to in discussions throughout the day. As well as events like the Network Assembly itself and our collaboration with legal organisations such as LawWorks and Migrants’ Rights Network, various examples of public engagement emerged during our discussions. We showed a short film on our Researching Translanguaging Summer School, in which researchers and teachers from across the globe spoke of their plans to use translanguaging to improve communication and teaching in their contexts. Kieran File spoke of his public engagement activity, particularly in improving what he called frontstage communications (i.e. interactions between sports figures and the media). Matt Windle and Bruno Duque stressed the need to engage young people, as they both do. Volunteers from third sector organisations spoke of their attempts to create what we might call translanguaging spaces. As Kieran File pointed out, there has never been a more crucial time for those of us who believe in diversity to get our message out and to put pressure on the media to adopt a positive take on diversity as a valuable resource in society.
Engaging: capoeira in action