Just a quick update: the registration for the CL2017 conference at the University of Birmingham (24-28 July) is closing very soon on 30 July. [I shall admit openly that I’m part of the organising committee and therefore advertising it – but genuinely think this conference will be a good one!] This conference series is one of the biggest corpus linguistics events in Europe that runs bi-annually and has been hosted at the universities of Birmingham, Lancaster and Liverpool. The CL2017 programme contains streams related to a variety of CL applications. Of particular interest will be the plenary papers by Susan Conrad, Andrew Hardie, Susan Hunston, Christian Mair, Dan McIntyre and Mike Scott.
I have recently started working as a Research Fellow on the CLiC Dickens project at the Centre for Corpus Research, University of Birmingham. The main focus of this project is the custom-developed CLiC web app, which allows to use corpus tools – i.e. search, concordance, find clusters (repeated phrases) etc. – in Dickens’s novels and other 19th century fiction.
Next week the CLiC Dickens project is hosting a free workshop for English teachers (and those interested in/researching teaching methods for literature): ‘Corpus stylistics for the English classroom‘ at the University of Birmingham on June 16, 2017. If you’re interested, please do check the event link. Registration is easy & free via email (to me) and refreshments will be provided :).
You can also check out some of the CLiC functionality in this recent video tutorial that introduces the CLiC KWICGrouper; a new approach to sorting concordances! (Read my previous blog post for more information on reading, sorting and analysing concordances.)
As the CLiC Dickens project is about corpus linguistics and meaning, the work is pretty ‘close to home’ (it’s also physically in the same department) in terms of my previous work. At the same time, there are some new directions in it for me: corpus stylistics is concerned with meaningful patterns in literature (mainly, anyway) and this is quite different from my PhD research which looks at non-fiction (academic writing, blog posts and newspaper articles). Moreover, the CLiC project combines its corpus stylistic approach with ‘cognitive poetics’, which is another really exciting direction.
My PhD research broadly deals with two areas: corpus linguistic methods (how can we identify patterns of meaning in a discourse?) and their application to surveillance discourse (how is the concept of surveillance discussed in different domains of public discourse?). In the first two years of my PhD I spent most time focusing on the methodological concerns. How do I collect relevant texts? How do I need to process these texts? What corpus linguistic methods are out there? How have other researchers applied and developed them? Which methods are most suitable for my project? As I was dealing with these questions I mainly talked to other linguists.
However, I haven’t engaged much with the other relevant group. So, when I saw the CfP for the first workshop from the Surveillance & Religion Network, I considered this a good chance to initiate some dialogue with surveillance studies scholars. They, I thought, would be more interested in the theme rather than the method and would therefore be able to give me more feedback with that regard.
Once the event had started, I was happy to discover that my nervousness to attend the event as a linguist was unnecessary. The atmosphere at the workshop was very friendly indeed. Attendees came from very mixed backgrounds: academics (sociology, theology, education, archaeology, linguistics), practicing clerics and even police.
We thus had an insightful programme full of different perspectives on surveillance. My personal highlight was the public lecture by Professor David Lyon, the director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queens University, Canada. The lecture was entitled ‘Why surveillance is a religious issue’.
Professor Lyon emphasised one point that was also voiced throughout other sessions in the programme: the increasing ‘surveillance culture’ promotes a climate of suspicion which can only be overcome through a promotion of trust. In Lyon’s view, while surveillance practices can reinforce the marginality of minorities, religious institutions are in a position that allows them to promote trust and hope. Lyon was particularly keen on promoting the idea that we should not give up on our agency, which, as he argues, is in line with the teachings of Abrahamic religions. Indeed, there are small steps we can all take in promoting trust by, for example, campaigning for less surveillance at our workplaces or encouraging our software-developing friends to collect less consumer data. The public lecture was recorded and the audio will be made available soon. (I will post the link here once it is live.)
I have just given the example from David Lyon here, but throughout the workshop we also heard about many ways in which religion and surveillance can be related. For instance, the metaphor of the ‘divine gaze’: how God, in Abrahamic religions, watches over the people. My own contribution was, obviously, linguistic in nature. I presented work related to my PhD thesis: a corpus linguistic analysis of religious themes in surveillance discourse in the academic journal Surveillance & Society and in a collection of blogs. I enjoyed meeting this group of scholars and practitioners who share an interest in surveillance and its social consequences. They also reassured me that my research is of interest for them, as there is not much dialogue between surveillance studies and linguistics.
If you are curious about the relationship between surveillance and religion in particular, you might be interested in the next event by the Surveillance & Religion Network. The ‘Religions Consuming Surveillance – Workshop Two‘ is taking place from March 20 – 22 in Edinburgh and the deadline for the CfP is 15 December. Should you have any experiences related to the theme of surveillance & religion or interdisciplinary encounters, I’d be curious to hear about these in the comments!
Update 26 October: I just found another blog post about Professor Lyon’s public lecture by the organiser of the Open Rights Group Birmingham, Francis Clarke. His attendance (and participation in the question session) is a good example of how academics and public groups, particularly activists, can engage with one another.
The full virtual Twitter conversation from throughout the week can be found under the hashtag #ccrss16.
Topics ranged from multiple facets of corpus statistics and their applications in R to Sinclairian lexical items, corpus stylistics and translation studies, specialised corpora and an introduction to Python for corpus linguists. The workshops and talks were held by Johan de Joode, Stefan Evert, Chris Fallaize, Matt Gee, Stefan Th. Gries, Nicholas Groom, Susan Hunston, Andrew Kehoe, Michaela Mahlberg, Lorenzo Mastropierro, Florent Perek, Simon Preston, Pablo Ruano, Adam Schembri, Paul Thompson and I. While most of us are based at UoB, it was great to have colleagues from other institutions and even from abroad join us to share their expertise.
My own session was inspired by a talk from Mark Davies at the ICAME 37 conference (Chinese University of Hong Kong, May 2016), where he demoed the new ‘virtual corpus’ feature on the BYU corpus interface.[Click on the links for the PDF versions of my presentations slides and the handout of my session].
Personally I enjoyed this week of intense exposure to different aspects of corpus linguistics. Full-week events like conferences and summer schools can be quite draining as you have to be ‘always on’, responding to new contents and people. However, the learning hopefully makes up for that.