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New times, researcher mobility and multilingual research practice: opportunities, innovation and constraints

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In this talk, I will focus on researcher mobility and on some of the ways in which this has contributed to the development of multilingual research practice. For over three decades, those of us who have been conducting research on urban multilingualism, in countries like the UK, have had ample opportunities to explore the potential of multilingual research practice, to build an understanding of how it contributes to knowledge-building and to work out how to deal with the ways in which such practices are constrained by the monolingual ideologies and practices of many higher education institutions. Now, we are witnessing a significant expansion in the scope of multilingual research practice and not just among those of us for whom multilingualism is the main object of study. This is a change that is taking place across the social sciences. The internationalisation policies of universities and of funding bodies, the advent of the internet and the increase in the global reach of publishing industries have transformed the worlds of research. Many doctoral researchers work in transnational spaces, drawing on different language resources at different stages of the research process. Increasingly, the funding for research projects requires the establishment of international research teams and collaboration between researchers with diverse language histories. In addition, there is much more border crossing among post-doctoral researchers seeking employment today than there was a decade or so ago. This has also opened up new possibilities for multilingual research practice.

My talk will be organised around three main themes: the opportunities opened up through the use of multilingual resources at different stages of a research project; recent innovation in multilingual research practice and some of the advantages that accrue from this; and the institutional constraints on multilingual research practice and the ways in which new and established researchers are positioned with regard to being able to mount challenges to these constraints. In addressing these themes, I will be drawing on three decades of work in multilingual research teams and on my own experience of doctoral supervision in the field of multilingualism. I will also be drawing on insights gleaned from two current research projects: (1.) a capacity-building project that I organised, with my colleagues at the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, at the University of Birmingham. The project was entitled: Researching multilingualism, multilingualism in research practice and it was funded from 2010 to 2013 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under its Researcher Development Initiative (Further details are available on: (2.) a sister project, entitled: Researching multilingually, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2011-2012, under its Translating Cultures scheme. (Further details are available on: Both projects were aiming to raise awareness of the nature and scope of multilingual research practice and to draw attention to the challenges involved in this aspect of ethnographic and interpretive research.


Marilyn Martin-Jones is an Emeritus Professor based at the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, School of Education, University of Birmingham. She was the founding Director of the MOSAIC Centre (2007—2010). Over the last 30 years or so, she has been involved in research on multilingualism in classroom and community contexts in England and in Wales. She has a particular interest in the ways in which language and literacy practices contribute to the construction of identities, in local life worlds and in educational settings, and with the ways in which such practices are bound up with local and global relations of power. Her work is critical and ethnographic in nature, combining participant observation and ethnographic interviews with analysis of multilingual discourse and literacy practices. These theoretical and methodological concerns are reflected in her publications and in her book series with Routledge entitled: ‘Critical Studies in Multilingualism’.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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