With the support of the BLC, I had the opportunity to present a paper at the annual American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference, which was held March 24-27 in Portland. I have attended this conference regularly for the past eight years. This conference brings together both American and international researchers with broad and diverse interests in language education, language policy, and language use. As a lecturer of Social Semiotics, Discourse and Social Interaction, American Culture/ESL, and Associate African Language/Outreach Coordinator, I appreciate the opportunity to hear about both discourse research and language pedagogy, while reconnecting with old and new friends who come from near and far.
Despite the diversity of research contexts and applied linguistic topics however, I am usually one of very few conference attendees who conducts research in Africa. My presentations often attract the few other conference attendees, who share research experience or have other affiliations with the context (Tanzania, or more broadly the African continent), rather than with the my presentation topic (the politics and practices of knowledge exchange in the context of neoliberal educational reforms). Although I don’t always get critical feedback on my research, I have come to expect and appreciate that my presentation serves as a small space of other researchers interested in Africa and have met people that I would not have otherwise met at the conference before.
I attended several engaging presentations in the language ideology strand. Professor Thompson presented her oral history and narrative research on the contradictory language ideologies of elderly German immigrants. By sharing historical narratives in which German and German Americans were under threat (and considered un-American), Thompson offers a meaningful way for second and third generation German American youth to (re) consider current [English only] language policies and the challenges to multilingualism and multiculturalism. This presentation offered an interesting segue into a presentation by an undergraduate student of Mary Bucholtz, who presented examples of how Latina youth contested racialized language ideologies using the tools of critical language awareness, which they are learning in their SKILLS program (http://www.skills.ucsb.edu/). SKILLS is a partnership between the department of Applied Linguistics at UC Santa Barbara and several high schools in which students learn the skills to investigate their lives using sociolinguistic approaches. My students of social semiotics and discourse analysis love reading Bucholtz’s own research on racialized language ideologies. The SKILLS program offers many useful tools, which could be used by foreign language educators to support students’ acquisition of translingual/transcultural competence in the foreign language.
I was also very excited to attend the amazing panel presentation on the impacts of neoliberalism on Language, Research, and Learning, which was organized by UC Berkeley Graduate Students of Education. In addition to sharing their reflections of the impacts of neoliberalism on their respective graduate studies and research projects, they invited researchers from Dublin (Marnie Hollborrow) and the National University of Singapore (Huang Gao and Joseph Park), which provided important transnational comparisons to situate neoliberalism as a simultaneously global and situated local phenomenon.
In addition to attending many superb presentations, one of the highlights of AAAL is always attending the dinner with Claire Kramsch’s current and previous advisees. As those of you who know Claire, in addition to her critical scholarship, exciting teaching and supportive mentorship, being a student of Claire’s also comes with the incredible benefit of participating in the many social and intellectual spaces she creates for students and wider intellectual community. There must have been 40+ people at the dinner this year and as always it was great to be among so many special people.
Finally, perhaps out of sheer luck, I ran into Jonathan Crichton, a professor of Communication Studies at the University of South Australia, whom I had met several years ago at another AAAL conference. After having a great conversation about the challenges of combining ethnography and discourse analysis approaches, he shared his dissertation with me. I used his methods section as a model and it was great to reconnect several years later now that I have completed my own dissertation. He has offered to read my dissertation and has already given wonderful suggestions and guidance on how to take the next step towards publishing my ethnographic dissertation as a book.
I am grateful to the BLC and wider BLC community for all of your financial and intellectual support!