research training programme  
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rationale

why ethnography, language and communication? 

Language and communication are central to social science research. They are a key part of the methods and data collected in a broad range of approaches - for example, participant-observation, surveys, interviews, textual analyses, and experimental interventions. How researchers engage with language and communication crucially shapes the rigour and validity of their work.

The perspectives and tools explored in this training programme will help researchers to avoid the perils of both under- and over-interpretation. Traditional social scientific methods – e.g. interviews and surveys – often take what subjects’ say at face value, skimming the surface of the communicative event, under-estimating the influence of the social and historical context. At the same time, there are other approaches – e.g. critical discourse analysis, cultural criticism – that tend to over-privilege sociological and ideological factors, eclipsing what the specific text or interaction means for the participants involved, and the way they have brought their own agency to bear upon it. At the other end of the spectrum, there are micro-analytic approaches, like conversation analysis, which tend to sideline the broader context of communication, thereby omitting significant sources of meaning and insight.

Selecting research methods inevitably involves trade-offs, and the ELC programme is designed to offer researchers from a variety of approaches and disciplines an appreciation of the complexities of language and communication, and a set of ethnographically sensitive tools to complement their current perspectives and methods of inquiry.

how do we approach language and communication? 

Meaning involves much more just than the content of the words that are used – interviews, for example, entail more than the reporting of facts and opinions, and much more goes on in communication in classrooms and consultations than the official business of ‘learning’ or ‘diagnosis’. There is a continuous flow of signals about social stances and relationships carried in the small details of language and interaction – e.g. in a momentarily delayed reply, in the emphasis given to one word rather than another. At the same time, the production and interpretation of these signs is profoundly influenced by the participants’ expectations, assumptions and communicative resources, and increasingly often in contemporary conditions of globalisation, these take shape in social networks and prior experiences that are very different from the researcher’s.

In making sense of language and communication, we draw upon a range of disciplinary and methodological traditions, including:

  • Ethnography of communication
  • Interactional sociolinguistics
  • New literacy studies
  • Ethnomethodology and conversation analysis
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Multimodal social semiotics

UK researchers are now linking these in ‘linguistic ethnography’, which holds that

  • that the contexts for communication should be investigated, not just assumed. Meaning takes shape among agents with different repertoires and expectations, in specific social relations, interactional histories and institutional regimes, and these need to be grasped ethnographically. At the same time,
  • biography, identifications, stance and nuance are extensively signalled in the textual fine-grain, so analysis of the internal organisation of verbal data reveals much of their position and significance in the world.

Focused in this way, linguistic ethnography aims for analyses that are both disciplined and rich.

 
 

 

KEY CONCEPTS AND METHODS
Five-day course for advanced research students integrating ethnography with language and communication research.

APPLICATION WORKSHOPS
One-day workshops for students and established researchers, focused on health, migration, education and new media.

MASTER CLASSES
One-day masterclasses featuring international scholars doing cutting edge research.