LEF BAAL strand 2016
There was a strong Linguistic Ethnography Forum track at the BAAL 2016 Annual Meeting, held at Anglia Ruskin University, 1-3 September 2016.
Richard Barwell, from the University of Ottawa, presented his research on linguistic ethnography and language diversity in classroom settings, drawing in particular on work in language diverse mathematics classrooms in Canada, and reflecting on how these highlighted issues of reflexivity, indexicality and intertextuality.
Jackie Militello, from the University of Hong Kong, shared her work with Hong Kong university students applying for jobs in elite financial firms. She sat with students as they prepared for interviews using Internet searches, interviewed them, and had mock interview answers from them evaluated by industry professionals. She showed the barriers they faced in making use of the information they found: from difficulty in finding the most useful information in the first place, to lack of familiarity with the colloquial English language used on websites, to the lack of implicit knowledge about how to come across to interviewers as ‘one of us’ in dress and style as well as in terms of how they presented their experience. They were therefore disadvantaged against Ivy League students, steeped in an elite business habitus.
Daniel Perrin, Alexandra Gnach and Marlies Whitehouse, from Zurich University of Applied Sciences, shared their fascinating work based on the detailed logging of people’s writing practices over long periods of time in a range of settings – the paper drew examples from education, financial communication, and journalism. On the basis of their long history of ethnographic work, they argued that there has been a shift from ‘focused writing’, writing as a localized, coherent, and solitary activity, to ‘writing by-the-way’ – a fragmented, dialogic approach to writing, emerging from social media, which happens at any location, at all times, alongside other kinds of activities. They explored the implications of this shift, suggesting (presciently, given current political circumstances) that this might be part of a shift to a ‘post-factual’ era – at least, that is, if we are unable to develop practices which can confront complex societal problems through this kind of writing by-the-way.
Rachel Heinrichsmeier, from King’s College London, drew on her extended linguistic ethnography of a local hairdressing salon to show how older women negotiated expectations around how they positioned themselves in relation to social expectations around appearance. This was a complex negotiation, with women having to avoid ‘letting themselves go’ while at the same time not showing an excessive concern which could be interpreted as vanity. She showed through micro-analysis how one woman in particular challenged these expectations by subverting expected routines of interaction in the salon, and thus making some ‘wiggle-room’ for herself around these social constraints.
Deirdre Martin (Goldsmiths) and Caroline Tagg (Open University) shared a study of texting practices among teenage school pupils of Panjabi heritage who were categorised by their schools as having lower literacy skills. Their paper reflexively explored the interviews they carried out as sociolinguistic events, showing how the boys and girls they worked with took control in the interviews in different ways, producing data, controlling access to texts, supporting and scaffolding one anothers’ responses, and showing how the unsanctioned writing practices of texting provided a space for these pupils’ linguistic versatility, creativity and voice which was not available to them in the school setting.
Thank you to all the presenters, this was a really interesting day which showcased the diversity of work in the area of linguistic ethnography, and particularly the careful reflexivity of linguistic ethnographers in approaching the interpretation of data.

Karin Tusting