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BAAL 2015 Conference

PhD students from the Department attend the BAAL 2015 Conference.

Fatima Alhalwachi - NewRoute PhD Language and Communication

One of the realities of life as a PhD student is that no matter how intellectually rewarding your research is, it is one of the loneliest and most isolating tasks on the planet. Not only is this caused by the extent of commitment this type of research requires, but because it is very hard to find a social circle or community in which your interests would be shared and your thoughts appreciated. In an attempt to step out of this isolation every now and then, as PhD students, I believe that we need to deliberately find the time and socialise in events that are close to our area of expertise.

A recent example of these ‘socialisation’ attempts is the three-day BAAL (British Association of Applied Linguistics) conference that took place at Aston University. Although attending was a ‘last minute’ decision, which meant that presenting any work of my own was out of question, going to BAAL offered incomparable opportunities of intellectual engagement and social networking. My main objectives where hence directed at sharing, reflecting, and relating to those people/interests in the field of applied linguistics which I am -ironically- away from.

On the level of intellectual attainment, I could positively say that attending an research festivity where a gurus like Penelope Eckert is a plenary speaker, in addition to contributors who are leaders in the field such as Malcolm Coulthard, Adrian Blackledge, Angela Creese,Judith Baxter and our very own Birkbeck colleagues Zhu Hua and Li Wei, cannot be called anything but enriching. The conference’s proceedings and papers which centred around the theme “breaking theory, new directions in applied linguistics”, offered critiques to current theories joined with insights and suggestions on how to best engage and practice the ‘applied’ side of applied linguistics in order to unravel the fields’ potentials and break out of the solitary theoretical realm in creative, challenging and meaningful ways. More importantly though, in my view, are the little chit-chats that go around throughout the conference, around coffee breaks and lunch gatherings, between sessions and after lectures and presentations. These are the little gem opportunities to go beyond what the presenter has to say into what he/she did not. Talking to people about the unwritten alterations and complications of their work, adding your own say or query, relating it to your particular interest and reflecting on it; in a way that creates thoughts, challenges, additions and opportunities for future research and/or collaborative work. One of those revealing moments was when I approached Ila Nagar following her presentation in the ‘language, gender and sexuality SIG’ and asked her the pressing question of “how did she -an Indian woman of young age and social background- manage to get to spend so much time amongst the Janana indian covert bisexual community which she has been studying for over 12 years, in neighbourhoods that are so stigmatised, exclusive and relatively unsafe?” What she did not reveal in her presentation she did in our side-talk, expressing the difficulties and awkwardness she had faced until she found a ‘safe place’ to meet members of those communities, build trust with them and cross those barriers that impeded her research when it first began (If interested, cf her work Nagar, I., & DasGupta, D. (2015). Public koti and private love: Section 377, religion, perversity and lived desire. Contemporary South Asia, (ahead-of-print), 1-16.).

Ila Nagar and other researchers’ experiences which they share with you present you with the realities behind those well polished pieces of literature. The problems, the challenges and the stories behind gearing towards a particular interest or group. Information that is immensely valuable to us, researchers who are struggling to understand how this whole community of applied linguistics functions internally. I had fabulous opportunities to talk to a number of people, which enabled me to position myself within this remarkable intellectual community of researchers.

However, to be honest, when you have drained your social-networking personal capacity of introducing yourself to people and barging into and maintaining conversations, you feel like you need good old friends to enjoy their company. I was lucky to meet up with five wonderful ladies from our applied linguistic department at Birkbeck (see image) most of who were  presenting their work. Having them around provided both the comfort of familiar faces and the proud feeling of belonging to a group and to a college that is so well represented. Here, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to those behind the organisation of the conference who have managed to make it such a remarkable experience.