Researching multilingualism in multilingual teams
For the last 12 years we have been researching language practices in community-run language schools. These are known in the UK as 'complementary' or 'supplementary' schools, and in the US as 'heritage language' schools. Complementary schools are grassroots institutions which have developed with very little government funding. In many ways financially vulnerable, and surviving from hand to mouth, they are nonetheless sites which have a political role in countering the monolingual orientation of mainstream schooling, providing young people with an opportunity to resist ethnic categories and social stereotypes associated with static identity markers. These non-statutory and voluntary schools provide a community resource for young people, parents and teachers to network, and to support positive student learner identities. They also create spaces where young people and their teachers are able to negotiate identities through the performance of diverse linguistic repertoires.
We have conducted ethnographies in eleven British complementary schools, spending on average one year in each site collecting data for projects which last approximately two years each (for more information see Blackledge and Creese 2010). We have also worked in collaboration with European sites investigating similar phenomena (Blackledge et al. in press). The schools we investigated taught Bengali, Cantonese, Gujarati, Mandarin, Panjabi, and Turkish, to mainly British-born young people. We negotiated access to the schools through contacts made by researchers who for the most part already had excellent community networks. We then observed, recorded, interviewed, and collected field documents, often with more than one researcher on site at the same time.
Funding from the UK and European funding councils has allowed us to work in multilingual, multisite and increasingly multidisciplinary research teams, and this has become our default approach of conducting linguistic ethnography. We will refer to one research project in this chapter. We discuss the 'European' project, which spanned four contexts in Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the UK. The UK case study of the project investigated Panjabi complementary schools. These were community-run, often small-scale organisations staffed by community groups for the purpose of teaching Panjabi. The particular school we worked in met on Saturdays in two sites. The case study team comprised three researchers, Jaspreet Kaur Takhi (JKT), Adrian Blackledge (AB), who was also project leader for the wider European team of fourteen researchers, and Angela Creese (AC). As field researchers Jaspreet and Angela visited the Panjabi school most Saturdays for a year, where we observed classes, wrote fieldnotes and set up audio-recordings both during class time and at home and elsewhere. We separately visited all classes over the initial four months of the project, before deciding as a team on two focal classrooms for more detailed observation and recording over a further four months. Our data sets include fieldnotes, interviews, audio- and video- recordings, and field documents. In this chapter we refer mainly to fieldnotes.