LINCS research officially declared ‘pure dead brilliant’

by Graham Turner

If you’re a wee bit geeky about higher education, like some of the staff of LINCS, you will have been holding your breath just after midnight on the morning of 18th December. You weren’t? What can I say? I guess you just had to be there.

What was the fuss about? It was the announcement of the results of the Research Excellence Framework 2014, aka REF. How did LINCS fare? Pure dead brilliant.

In fact, Heriot-Watt University performed well as a whole in the REF rankings. The ‘headline’ announcement is that Heriot-Watt has risen to 33rd position in the UK (4th in Scotland), as compared with 45th in the 2008 audit. (You can see lots more, including a podcast/video presentation of our results by the University’s Principal, here http://www.hw.ac.uk/news/heriot-watt-demonstrates-significant-20137.htm.)

REF is a UK-wide audit of research performance. Every six years or so, it reviews the work of every department in every university in the land. That’s 154 universities, submitting 1,911 reports, covering research by 52,061 members of staff.

A series of expert panels were created – LINCS’ own Professor Máiréad Nic Crath was selected for one of these, which is a real endorsement of the esteem in which Máiréad is held by academic peers far and wide. The brave panel members then spent most of the year reading 191,150 publications (!) and reaching judgments about their quality.

Besides digesting the research itself, the panellists read documents describing the research environment in each department. And, in a brand new development, they also reviewed 6,975 case studies designed to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of research in ‘the real world’ – how it was valued by policy-makers, industry, the professions and the public.

Eventually, an elaborate series of grades and profiles were generated from the results. As soon as they were announced (last Thursday morning), the press inevitably went into overdrive producing league tables. (Those familiar with the soccer player Gary Lineker’s remark that “Football is a simple game: twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win” will recognise what tends to happen in the REF tables – for Germans, read Oxbridge and London.)

I know, I know – you just want to know how LINCS got on.

Well, one-third of our research was declared ‘world leading’ for its originality, rigour and significance by the Modern Languages & Linguistics panel. In respect of that ‘world leading’ measure, LINCS stands in 17th place in the UK, and top in Scotland.

Panels were looking assess the ‘reach and significance’ of our impact on the economy, society and culture. And here, we scored 90% ‘outstanding’ – placing us 2nd in the UK, and again top in Scotland.

For its ‘vitality and sustainability’ as an environment in which to do research in our fields, LINCS was rated 19th overall in the UK.

As I said, it all starts to get a bit geeky after a while. So why might it matter to you?

What REF tells you boils down to three things. One, you have a painstaking, independent endorsement of the claim that we do know what we’re talking about in our subject areas. Two, if you are interested in studying or working here, LINCS is a stimulating, supportive place to be – and that character is built in for the long term. And three, we’re really not here just to stroke our brain cells: we care passionately about doing work that changes people’s lives.

One last thought. It’s important to recognise that a department’s research performance is not the result only of the efforts of those named in REF as ‘active researchers’, but of everyone involved in the life of the department. That means academics, secretariat, students and associates.

 It’s always a team effort to make sure that, collectively, we’re doing all the things a good department should. LINCS truly does do all of those things, as REF helps to underline.

So, as we head into the holiday season, here’s a toast to each and every person who takes part in the life of LINCS, for every kind of contribution they make.

Ethnology Crossroads

Reporting back from Ethnology Crossroads Conference

by Prof. Máiread Nic Craith, Anna Koryczan and Cristina Clopot

Ethnology Crossroads was a two-day conference organized by the European Ethnological Research Centre in collaboration with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, held on December 5-6th in Edinburgh. The aim was to assess the current state of ethnology in Scotland but also discuss its possible future. This discussion was rounded over the publication of the 14th and last book from the Scottish Life and Society – A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology series and was dedicated to the memory of Alexander Fenton. The list of speakers of the day included two LINCS professors, Máiréad Nic Craith and Ullrich Kockel, and a couple of LINCS students in the audience.

Ethnology as seen and practiced by young academics

The second panel of the conference featured young ethnologists, who are either working on a PhD thesis or are aiming to start one in the future. Fascinating projects were presented by three speakers in connection to the umbrella theme of the panel ‘Ethnologists in the Community’.

The first speaker, Ella Leith, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, reasoned for recognition of Deafness as a cultural rather than a medical issue. In this context, she tried to raise awareness of Deaf disempowerment in higher education as well as to make a clear distinction with regard to ways the society engages with deaf communities, that is, through either taking a stance of ‘deaf wage’ or ‘deaf heart’. Concluding her talk, Ella urged ethnologists to take social responsibility towards minorities they study.

The second speaker, Alistair Mackie, an MSc student at the University of Iceland, spoke of his undergraduate project on the question of European identity in the context of multi-cultural Balfolk events. Alistair’s findings revealed that participants’ perceptions and attitudes towards such cultural encounters vary significantly, thus mirroring the diverse standpoints on European identity.

The third speaker, Carley Williams, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, gave an overview of her research project, which deals with the practice of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in Scotland, in the context of UNESCO 2003 Convention. In her research, Carley aims to develop recommendations that will help to empower and support practitioner communities, ensuring at the same time viability and sustainability of their ICH as a living tradition.

Ethnology of the 21st century – an engaged science reaching high

Ethnology_1

The young scholar session was followed by a discussion between Dr. Gary West and LINCS Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, designed as a freeform talk. Moving the discussion from ethnology in Scotland towards the broader European setting, the conversation assessed the current state of ethnology. Building up on the conclusions of the previous panel, the two academics discussed about the type of ethnology a researcher might strive for today, when the discipline is at a ‘crossroads’ moment. Far from being parochial, this ethnology is a lively area that includes both rural and urban areas, labelled as ‘engaged ethnology’. It is also led by daring objectives, as marked by the leitmotif of the day, ‘why not’, urging researchers to go further than the journal article to support change.

Other subjects were brought in as well, related to the topics of ethnological research. The ‘power of culture’ to divide but also to bring people together was among these topics, as well as heritage. Taking an example from material culture of a built environment, a suggestion was made to consider narratives of people, the stories and emotions they invest in these structures. Prof. Nic Craith argued for an inclusive consideration of the tangible and intangible aspects of heritage in a research projects, and together with Dr. Gary West highlighted the fact that U.K. has managed to build on its intangible heritage (ICH) better than other countries and that it might benefit from exposing this experience in the larger setting of international discussions around ICH. Ethnology’s role, in this case, is to help safeguard traditions.

Ethnology_2

The final session looked at the issue of ethnology tomorrow and was chaired by Professor Edward Cowan. The panel included Prof. Andrew Blaikie, Prof. Ullrich Kockel, Dr. Mairi McFadyen and Prof. Stana Nenadic. The two ethnologists (Kockel and McFadyen) were passionate about the potential of ethnology to address issues in the 21st century and set the subject in the context of Patrick Geddes‘ approach to ecological, social and cultural development. While not ethnologists themselves, the other two speakers highlighted the relevance of ethnology for historians and drew many parallels between history and ethnology.

Pushing ethnology further

In line with one of the aims to reach further, the lively discussions of the day were not accessible only in the closed setting of the conference, but were opened to a larger audience through live tweeting. All resulting tweets are now available in this Storify feed.

With so many avenues opened and encouraged by the state of enthusiasm felt by participants, it was suggested that these ideas might actually be starting points for a longer discussion to be carried further in a series of meetings/potential events.

Welcome to the new LINCS blog!

Well, it’s not exactly new, but it’s had a bit of a face-lift. We may change a few more pictures and make minor aesthetic changes, but the content and purpose of the blog will still remain the same.

The most important change that will take place next week is the change of our domain name. Our domain will be changed to: 

http://www.lifeinlincs.org

so please add this to your bookmarks!

The About page has information about the blog and about the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Research page has information on our two research centres, the Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland (CTISS) and the Intercultural Research Centre (IRC).

The Seminars page has a list of CTISS, IRC and EdSign Seminar Series.

The Postgraduate Programmes page has information on Postgraduate Taught Programmes in LINCS (MSc and PGDip).

The PhD Opportunities page provides information on research areas and categories in LINCS for prospective PhD students, as well as links on how to apply.

The Department’s contact details are under Contact.

We hope you continue to enjoy our blog and contribute to discussions and reflections on language and intercultural communication !

Can museums make a difference on public attitudes to identity, citizenship and belonging?

by Katerina Strani

I come from an ancient country, where museums are spaces filled with age-old artefacts that assert national (or regional) identity. They are there to inform, to teach, to educate in the broad sense. This is the role of museums, right?

Katherine Lloyd urges us to think beyond that monolithic perception. In her recent talk hosted by the IRC in LINCS, she explored the potential impact of museums on public attitudes to issues of identity, citizenship and belonging in an age of migrations. Katherine’s work, which focuses on Scottish museums, contributes to an emerging body of international research that interrogates the normative assumptions within heritage studies regarding the ability of museums to facilitate attitudinal changes to cultural difference.

The potential for museums to foster inclusive identities and facilitate intercultural understanding has become a pertinent issue for European policy makers in recent years, as evidenced in the aims of the EU-funded research programme MeLa*: European Museums in an Age of Migrations. The case of Scotland—where questions of national identity dominate the public sphere in the context of debates on constitutional change—provides a useful prism through which to consider these issues. Research undertaken with visitors at the National Museum of Scotland as part of the MeLa* research programme, in collaboration with ICCHS colleagues Chris Whitehead, Rhiannon Mason and Susannah Eckersley, has shown that while stories that highlight the historical heterogeneity of place can be found throughout the displays, these are often ignored, forgotten or overlooked by visitors.  A deeper understanding of not only how individuals respond to heterogeneous conceptualisations of place but the reasons why visitors may ignore or indeed ‘resist’ institutional representations of place as constructed and shifting is therefore needed if museums are to contribute to public debates about migration and identity.

Katherine’s talk sought to addresses this through bridging the gap between research on heritage, place and identity at the level of the individual with studies that focus on the institutional construction of identity within the museum. She analysed how young people in schools across Scotland utilised concepts of ‘place’ negotiated issues of migration, diversity, heritage and national identity and draws upon these findings in order to critically reflect upon the responses of visitors to displays at the National Museum of Scotland. The insights gained through this approach were then utilised to identify some of the potential challenges and risks that museums in Europe, and indeed further afield, may face when addressing such issues.

This research raised significant questions on the role of museum texts and museums in general in creating a dialectical space of exploring identity, belonging and cultural citizenship. The potential is vast.