Sara Ganassin


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  • Research contextualized in a regional Youth & Community government funded project as part of the Tackling Race Equality Programme The project was based in Tyneside and Tees Valley aiming at engaging women, especially from refugee and migrant background with the local culture, revising the concept of Britishness and promoting integration Project aimed at finding creative ways of overcoming inequalities of women to access, engage with and contribute to the local culture, arts and heritage Regional project with different strands Researches aimed at exploring issues preventing cultural integration of women in the NE
  • This research constituted the first part of the project (October 2009-March 2010). The broad aim of the research, conducted using a comprehensive range of qualitative methods, was to take forward the Cultural Equalities Agenda in the NE by working with and reaching migrant and refugee women across the region analysing and promoting their evolvement with local culture. Perspective of culture both from researcher and participant point of view. A team of volunteer researchers trained on participatory photography and assisting the focus groups. 11 women from different background worked together finding creative ways to investigate cultural barriers and women’s prospective on culture. Engaging participants to the research through participatory ways (art workshops, cultural visits, participatory photography (PP), focus group sessions) Need to give a tangible dimension to culture especially to support the implementation of PP and facilitate the focus groups (culture as material culture, each of the focus group corresponding to a different cultural visit or experience).
  • The design and participation of the research implied a complexity of linguistic positions both from researcher and participants point of view 68 participants + 11 volunteer-photographers participating to or assisting the focus groups from diverse ethno-linguistic backgrounds, over 15 mother-tongue languages, very different levels of English often spoken as a ‘colonial language’ Most of the participants could speak more than one language (generally their mother-tongue and one colonial language English, French, Portuguese, some Italian), many spoken other vehicular languages such as Arabic and Russian and were able to switch language in the focus groups to interpret for the other participants British-English participants as a ‘minority’ generally with no command of other languages This presentation draws both on my personal position and experience and on the observation of the focus group settings
  • As part British government funded project the research design assumed English as central and mandatory at all levels. British-English culture was also conceptually central in the research as exploring level of engagement with local culture from a migrant-foreign perspective BUT Almost all the participants didn’t have English as mother-tongue or they had a limited command or they spoke it as ‘colonial language’ and were concern about that (i.e. Indian women working in a call centre and reporting getting bullied about their accent). English is neither my mother-tongue nor the one of the volunteer-researchers’ assisting the focus group. Problem of what type of English to use in the focus group to engage with the participants without simplifying too much the concepts.
  • Exploration of issues related to private sphere of the individuals’ lives (themes related to their homeland, family, issue of integration and adequateness). Need to ensure an effective communication between researcher and participants (many questions are repeated/themes explored more in depth to check ‘what the participant meant’/translated) The central role of English was never discussed as the variety of languages would have made the use of interpreters or data collection in other languages highly unpractical. The few British-English participants were the only mono-lingual ones. The project implementation did not included the use of paid interpreters. Being aware of the multilingual setting that the research would have created and a degree of multilingualism as ‘normal’ for community projects language shift and issue related to translation weren’t problematised at any point within the research.
  • Observations in a research context were neither researchers nor participants are mother-tongue of the language of the study. Does it imply an absence of language authority? Shared experience of migration from the researcher (me) and participants’ point of view (though is objectable how close those experience effectively are). Shared sense of ‘being far from home’. A linguist diverse setting makes language issues (i.e. different accents or grammatical difficulties) more acceptable and even normal. In the focus group settings almost everyone was foreigner and perceived as able to understand issues of integration and cultural participation also due to lack of language command. On the other side almost everyone share the ability of speaking more than one language. The researcher occupies a third space as she is not from the host community (British-English) and the specific ones of the participants. The language used to facilitate the research were often third ones such as colonial languages like French, Spanish and Italian to less extent
  • Discussing if and why multilingualism of researcher (and multilingual focus group settings ) is an added value to research implementation. Non English mother-tongue participants and researchers are more used to use paraphrases when they cannot find the proper word and generally more receptive of other people language struggles. A multilingual range of participants and researchers/community practitioners with command of more than one language are less likely to need interpreters. In my experience of working in multilingual group settings those who are able to translate from one language into another often refers to being able to speak and understand more than one language as enhancing their confidence. On the other side monolingual elements tend to lament a disadvantage as ‘less skilled’. Allowing use and concepts from more than one language allow a degrees of conceptual meanings as particular word might be more effective or not fully translatable (i.e. Portuguese ‘saudade’, Urdu ‘izzat’).
  • Some points for discussion not only coming from a researcher perspective but also from a community practitioner one. Need of engaging effectively participants who are often vulnerable and or hard to reach and to work with them even after the research has terminated (long time relationships with the participants). Flexible use of different languages both in terms of having a multi-lingual researcher or linguistic mixed group in focus group setting Language as an ‘option ‘available to participants, who are more likely to feel free to express themselves if they know they can help themselves with more than one language (observation also applicable to non –research settings with groups). Multilingualism also as a way of avoiding using interpreters (often community projects are restricted by funding issues, issues related to effective translation, use of third persons and confidentiality issues). This particular research also opens up discussions on the role of researchers within vulnerable or marginalised groups as insider or insider to the communities of participants they work with. Sometimes researchers from the same community are perceived as untrustworthy (research on sexual health in Tees Valley where the researcher/community practitioner was refused by the participants as coming from the same community). Does a shared language constitutes a way of being closer to people without being judgmental?
  • Is multilingualism ‘normative’ in migrant community based research and project contexts? In many different occasions during my work of research and group work with people from diverse backgrounds I have heard monolingual British-English participants, volunteers and colleagues coming up with a similar sentence and a sort of apologetic tone for being unable to speak or understand another language. At the same time linguistic diversity is so much a common feature within the sector that I personally never seen it problematised for communication at any level as there is a sort of implicit reliance in the presence of someone who will understand more than one language and able to translate and many practitioners speak few languages themselves. Neither multilingualism was ever formally problematised for this research or other ones I have been involved. Therefore does such considerations suggest multilingualism as a normative component of community based project settings including research contexts?
  • Sara Ganassin

    1. 1. Community based multilingual research in the North East of EnglandFlexible multilingualism and language shift in researcher-participant interaction Sara Ganassin
    2. 2. Outiline of the session
    3. 3. Research Context: Aspen Culture Project• Introductory research to a regional CLG funded women’s project running between 2009 and 2011• About the project: Creating safe spaces for women for sharing issues affecting them Fostering positive changes and cultural engagement Focus on women from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds• Areas of activity: research, training, group work, producing resources, events and conferences
    4. 4. Research on women’s cultural inequalities• Promoting the women’s subjective perspective on culture and barriers to its access• A diverse team of 11 volunteers trainedas researcher-photographers workingwith women across the NE• Qualitative research methods(focus groups and participatory photographyto produce images representing the issues)• Four main themes: Fine arts Food Festivals & Heritage Performing Arts I will be much closer to you, when I eat the same as you
    5. 5. Complexity of linguistic positions• Focus groups as main settings• Multilingualism and language diversity as embodied in the research• 11 volunteer-researchers and 68 participants from diverse ethno-linguistic backgrounds• At least 15 mother-tongues• English as central for the whole research design
    6. 6. The role of English• English as central and mandatory for the research design and report writing• BUT• English was not the mother-tongue of a large majority of participants• Nor the researchers’ mother-tongue• Often ‘colonial’ language• Which English? Where there’s a will there’s a way‘I think that an issue especially regarding, well, English but also French is that is the official language of many, many countries so I mean even if pronounce is not properly British like people from where English is one of official languages and very good English in terms of grammar or expressions or whatever you want, sometimes there’s just kind of understanding’ (Quote from focus group)
    7. 7. Some issues and reflections from the study• Diversity of languages and levels of Participants able to support each command involved other in the translations• Need to translate concepts often private and emotional• Effective communication Ability of language shift as premises researcher-participants of the research• English to be kept as central for the research design and to allow everyone’s participation• Avoidance of interpreters• Given a multilingual setting language was not openly problematised within the research implementation
    8. 8. Power relations researcher-participant:absence of language authority?• ‘Reassurance’ coming from the fact that everyone is ‘foreigner’ and different level of English are accepted• Reflexivity research-participants: shared experience of migration• BUT• The researcher is also external from both the host community and the participants’ ones• Flexible multilingualism and use of a third language to facilitate the conversation
    9. 9. Versatile multilingualism: an addedvalue?• Multilingual participants and researchers are more used to paraphrases• It allows not to use interpreters• ‘Empowering’ for people who translates in the focus groups as they feel value for their linguistic diversity• In multilingual groups those who feel disadvantages are generally the monolingual elements• Richness of conceptual meanings
    10. 10. Some points for discussion: what linguistic premises for community based research?• Experience of community practitioner applied to research• Effective engagement and language switch• Multilingualism vs interpreting• Researcher as outsider or as insider?
    11. 11. Normative multilingualism in community based projects?• ‘I feel embarrassed I am the only one here who cannot speak more than one language’ So much to see and I intelligent enough to understand?
    12. 12. Thank you• Project website:• Contact: