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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

News from Modern Languages & Cultures


MLAC success in AHRC’s Open World Research Initiative (OWRI)

(21 March 2016)

Durham’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) is a key contributor to one of four major research programmes that UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is funding as part of its Open World Research Initiative (OWRI). Durham’s researchers are part of a consortium, led by Professor Stephen Hutchings (University of Manchester), which has been awarded £3.9 million to develop a large interdisciplinary programme of research titled Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community.

The aim of AHRC’s multi-million pound investment in its priority area of Modern Languages is to explore and foreground the central role that languages play in relation to key contemporary issues, such as social cohesion, migration, health, business and diplomacy. The initiative thereby seeks to have a significant impact on the study of modern languages in the UK.

Professor Michael Worton, CBE, comments:

The OWRI initiative aims to transform the discipline of modern languages and to find a new voice, a new vision and, above all, a new identity for languages. The challenge for each of the successful 4-year projects is to achieve all this through research which is more radically interdisciplinary than hitherto and more imaginatively collaborative with dynamic partnerships with other universities, with schools and, crucially, with non-academic organisations in the UK and abroad.”

Our consortium is made up of three core partner institutions – University of Manchester, Durham University, and London University’s Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Studies. It includes further collaborative partnerships with a number of other universities, in the UK and abroad, as well as a wide range of non-academic organisations, from six-form colleges and local councils to arts institutions, cultural diplomacy networks and foreign-policy think tanks.

Professor Stephen Hutchings, the project’s Principal Investigator, comments:

“We are delighted to have been awarded this grant, which we hope will strengthen community wellbeing and establish Modern Languages at the cutting edge of Humanities research more broadly. It aims to enhance the audience-building capacities of arts organisations, improve inter-community relations and deepen public understanding of the importance and complexity of language as a driver of community values.”

The consortium’s programme is structured into three interconnected research strands – the Multilingual (led by Professor Yaron Matras, University of Manchester), the Translingual (led by Professor Catherine Davies, IMLR, SAS, London University), andthe Transnational (co-led by Dr Andy Byford, MLAC, Durham University, and Professor Anoush Ehteshami, SGIA, Durham University). Durham’s researchers further include Dr Qing Cao, Dr Abir Hamdar, Dr Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Dr Dušan Radunović from MLAC. Post-doctoral and doctoral researchers will also form part of the team. The project is strongly supported by Durham’s School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA), which introduces into our research in modern languages the disciplinary strengths of political science and international relations, as well as deep regional studies expertise focused on the Muslim world, East Asia and Europe. Core non-academic partners with whom Durham will be collaborating particularly closely include Chatham House, Tyneside Cinema and Durham County Council.

Professor Claire Warwick,Durham University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), comments:

“We at Durham recognise the great value of collaborative projects which bring together researchers from so many HE institutions in the UK and other countries, and which draw on expertise from beyond the HE sector. We consider the scale and scope of this programme, with the wide coverage of global humanity that it seeks to study, engage with and inform, as unprecedented. It will place UK research in Modern Languages firmly on the world map, and create a legacy of pioneering interdisciplinary and language-led research.”

Durham-based research will focus on the dynamics of political, social and cultural interaction across a wide variety of examples of transnational communities – communities that share a single language, but are dispersed across multiple states and cultures. Our case-studies concentrate principally on the Russian-, Arabic-, Chinese-, and Spanish-speaking communities. Within this framework we explore:

- the consequences of the fact that, while language remains an unusually stable basis for identity-formation, it is becoming dislocated from sources of political power and cultural legitimacy;

- the effects of this on personal identities and networks, collective memories and ideologies, institutional structures and practices;

- the impact of the formation of transnational publics rooted in particular languages on contemporary statehood, nationhood, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and cultural practices;

- the effect of evolving forms of mobility and connectivity on the formation of different types of transnational language-based communities.