Aspire to improve social life

A significant amount of research now encompasses social or strategic goals, with government officials and policymakers increasingly focused on combining scientific, economic and social programmes (Shaw 2007). This reflects a shift away from mono-disciplinary research undertaken largely in universities with an emphasis on discovery towards interdisciplinary, market-oriented research increasingly undertaken within and outside of university settings and with an emphasis on the wider application of knowledge (Gibbons et al. 1994). For the linguistic ethnography community this means identifying and communicating 'beneficial societal impact' from linguistic ethnography research and strengthening efforts to advance its use. This is potentially challenging. However, an interest in the potential links between research and practical intervention runs deep in linguistic ethnography (Rampton et al., Chapter 2).

For many of our contributors this emphasis on 'beneficial societal impact' provides an opportunity to extend their research. Some work in partnership with professional groups (see, for instance, Bezemer's chapter on working with the medical profession). Others undertake research that comes from their own professional experience (see, for instance, Swinglehurst's description of how her experience as a family doctor using electronic patient records motivated her research); and/or start from 'real world' problems (see, for instance, Snell's chapter describing how reports in the press prompted her to examine specific issues relating to working class children's language). The challenge, neatly summarised by Lefstein and Israeli in their chapter exploring differences in the way linguistic ethnographers and teachers talk about classroom practice, is to 'adapt, complement and mediate linguistic ethnography in ways that are constructive, have integrity, and are recognised as helpful by practitioners' (Chapter 10, page 205). However, there remains a gap between the kind of robust and convincing analyses reported in this collection and significant impact in these areas.

How then might the findings from linguistic ethnographic work be used to bring about change? There is much more that we need to do as a community of scholars to think, work and collaborate differently with regard to change. We need to be ready to: 'persuade through numbers' (Rampton et al., Chapter 2, page 42) when required rather than rely on the 'telling case' (Mitchell 1984) as is more usual in linguistic ethnography; make productive use of diverse media to communicate more effectively with citizens, professionals and other groups; and better understand how our research findings and arguments are taken up in different settings.

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