Refugees, Asylum-seekers – Politics and Researching Multilingually

I have the great fortune to be a Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded (three-year large grant under the Translating Cultures theme) project entitled Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State (project website) led by the inspiring Professor Alison Phipps. This project builds on our earlier, smaller (one-year) also AHRC-funded, (under the same theme) research(er) networking project entitled Researching Multilingually.

The new project has brought to our earlier concern with an often largely invisible aspect of research – the possibilities for and complexities of purposefully making considering the diverse linguistic resources poetntially at play for any researcher, their participants, contexts, audiences, literatures, data, analysis and discussion – a major focus on researching border contexts (literally and meatphorically understood) where pain and trauma, vulnerability and inequity are evident and which may throw up different insights (into what it might mean to be languaged) than more settled and privileged contexts.

One such contextual arena concerns refugees and asylum-seekers and their encounters with the various official and unofficial encounters they may have when reaching the European Union. The project has two case studies specifically focusing on this issue (Case Study 2 – with a legal focus, Scotland and the Netherlands – and Case Study 3 – with an anthropological focus, Bulgaria and Romania) and it also has strong roots in and links to the activities of GRAMnet (the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network).

As the Refugee and Asylum-seeker situation in Europe as become such a hot issue in recent weeks, this research project has suddenly become a source of comment and insight and Alison has been extensively involved in media coverage of the ‘crisis’ and the political responses to it. Here is her article in the Guardian reflecting on her experience of hosting refugees in her own home.

This is the first time I have been so directly involved in a research project with such immediate connections to a highly politicised issue. This week alone I have written to the BBC, my MP, and my local councillors and I have interviews in coming weeks with academic researchers in Bulgaria and Macedonia (Skopje, FYROM) whose language specialisms involve them directly in the ‘crisis’ as it develops in their countries.

Such political ramifications for the research I am involved in repesent new territory for me but the chance to bring together my various roles and passions – my own political and humanitarian agenda (my political action), my disciplinary homes (critical applied linguistics and critical intercultural communication as well as TESOL), and my research activity (researching multilingually at borders) – is an exciting and deeply fulfilling one. I hope we will make a difference now and in the future.