Researching Multilingually

In this post, Justine Gangneux interviews Dr Mariam Attia about the interdisciplinary project entitled Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State

Can you introduce, in a few words, the project Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State which was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant recently?

This is a three-year large grant project funded by the AHRC under the theme Translating Cultures, the aim of which is two folds:

1)    to research interpreting, translation and multilingual practices in challenging contexts,

2)    and while doing so, to evaluate appropriate research methods (traditional and arts based) and develop theoretical approaches for this type of academic exploration.

The project has aninnovative structure, involving five distinct case studies and two cross-disciplinary integrative hubs.  The carefully selected case studies will allow for the documenting, analysing and comparing of translation processes and practices across different kinds of border and in a variety of geographical settings. Also the linking of these individual components through the two hubs will ensure their cross-disciplinary integration. Our hope is that this novel project structure will provide for the development of new theoretical, conceptual and empirical understandings of processes and practices of translation, interpretation and representation, all integrated in one project. The following image illustrates the different interactions within the project:

Hub and Case study interaction pinwheel diagram

How did you hear about this project and get involved in it? What is your role within it?

I was a Research Assistant on an earlier AHRC networking project by the title Researching Multilingually. The former research team now constitutes the Researching Multilingually Translating Cultures’ Hub or RMTC on the new project. I am currently a Research Associate based in the School of Education, Durham University. I work closely with members of my hub on delivering research outputs, and interact with case study researchers on the multilingual aspects of their research practice. A key aspect of my work is to collaborate with the Creative Arts hub on the transmission and translation of project findings into media.

Can you tell a bit more about your academic background and research experiences? How do these play in this project?

I completed my PhD in the area of teacher development and technology use at The University of Manchester, following which I assumed a number of roles including joining the former AHRC-funded Researching Multilingually, as I mentioned earlier.I also worked as a Research Advisor on an independent digital inclusion project developed for the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Qatar. Through my work on the first project, I became familiar with literature in the area, and developed clearer insights into the possibilities of doing research in more than one language, and the implications that this may have for researcher development. The second project helped me understand the intricacies of conducting non-academic research and the complexities of working with other research teams, stakeholders, and policymaker on areas of human empowerment. Both projects enriched my experience in capacity building and research methodology, which I continue draw upon in my current work.

Can you tell us about the research methods that the team uses/plans to use for the project, especially regarding your collaboration with artists from Pan African Arts Scotland?

One of the distinctive characteristics of this project is its international team of researchers, with their different disciplinary backgrounds, research experiences, languages, and performance skills. The team will conduct international comparative research on translation and interpretation at different kinds of border in order to develop theory, ethical research practices and research methodologies in relation to multilingual research.

As a research team, we aim to advance our understanding of research methodologies and ethical practices for working in multilingual contexts and/or with multilingual peoplethrough the careful use, comparison and evaluation of a range of different methods of data collection and analysis. In the RMTC hub we will lead on this process, and working with Pan African Arts Scotland or PAAS will provide us, and other researchers on the project, with access to a diverse toolkits of arts-based techniques ranging from drama and storytelling, to fashion and textiles.

PAAS and the Creative Arts Translating Cultures Hub or CATC will work with all the researchers over the coming years to assist them in translating qualitative/quantitative data, participant/researcher narratives and life histories from the medium of academic understanding and representation into that of multilingual performance and creative arts. It will not just be a matter of the CATC hub taking a finished output and transposing it to another medium, but they will work directly with the researchers in the project throughout the data gathering process to develop appropriate methods for artistic expression. This process will extend beyond the traditional data gathering process and open up new vistas for academic investigation.

Researching Multilingually is an interdisciplinary project where researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds and languages work together. How does this work and what are the advantages/difficulties of it?

The multilingual and interdisciplinary nature of the project will offer the opportunity to experience translation as an active, lived, multidimensional process and help develop ethical practices and strategies that will emerge directly from our project collaborations. This has the potential of opening up spaces for self-reflection on the artists’ and researchers’ role as translators and multilingual agents, influencing both our research design and creative work. Learning each others’ disciplinary languages requires respect for each others’ expertise and time to listen carefully. This translation process is in no way an easy, one-way process. Rather, it requires curious exploration of other people’s way of seeing the world and even a willingness to embrace the feeling of incompetence as integral to this translation process. One of the key roles of the integrative hubs is therefore to facilitate interdisciplinary communication among researchers on the project.

Most importantly, our multilingual research set-up offers a distinct colour palette of experiences, languages and disciplinary backgrounds; a resource which researchers and collaborators can draw upon to enrich their work and paint more expressive pictures of their research experiences.

This project also involves a lot of partners such as GRAMNet, Creative Scotland and The Scottish Refugee Council as well as many NGOs (correct me here if I am wrong). What kind of collaborations have you done so far/ do you foresee to do in the future?

That’s true. It is almost impossible to anticipate the outcome of the project in terms of forging and sustaining collaborations.. but exciting ideas are on the way. For example, there will be a language fest at the Centre for Contemporary Artsin Glasgow in November, as well as a production involving music, drama, textile displays and fashion at the end of the project. We already have a schedule of monthly informal briefings to share ideas with our collaborators and update those interested in the project. One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that outcomes are not easily predicted, for they grow organically with the rich ideas and multiple skills that researchers and artists bring to the project. Therefore, one of our major tasks is to control its size so that it remains manageable over the three years. We envisage the project or offshoots of it to continue to grow beyond its official lifetime, which we hope will be reflected in various future collaborations, such as joint research grants, publications and public engagement activities.

I wish to take this opportunity to encourage the readers of Glasgow Sociology Blog to visit our project website:, and engage with it, for it is through the rich contributions of all interested individuals and groups that this project will make a difference to society and the world.

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Dr. Mariam Attia has professional background in teaching Arabic to speakers of other languages, and has completed a doctoral study in foreign language teaching and technology at The University of Manchester. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the AHRC-funded project Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State. For further details about her work, please visit her website.