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We kindly invite for submissions of titles and abstracts on the topic “On the notion of ‘having a voice’ in social research: between moral imperatives and scientific analysys”


Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) – Centre Urbanisation Culture Société (UCS), Montréal (Québec) on May 28 and 29, 2020.

Deadline for submission: 15th March, 2020


On the notion of ‘having a voice’ in social research: between moral imperative and scientific analysis

How useful is the notion ‘voice’ in social and sociolinguistic theory? ‘Having voice’, ‘finding one’s voice’, ‘listening to voices’ and even ‘giving voice’ are frequent claims in critical pedagogy and in contexts of language learning sensitive to discrimination and equity (Juffermans/Van der Aa 2013; Morrell 2008; Pennycook 2001; Rampton/Cook/Holmes 2018). Those are also recurring notions in social and urban policies when it comes to recognizing and valuating the perspectives of less privileged persons. Researchers who are aware of global inequalities in knowledge production are concerned with finding and empowering non-western scholars and opening their academic contexts to uncommon approaches that challenge taken-for-granted epistemologies (Bell 2017). To do so, they often draw on the notion of ‘voice’. This entails that ‘voice’ has become both an object of study and a political and moral concept. How far can it be theoretically founded in order to support thorough analysis of social and sociolinguistic inequalities and the struggles of individuals and groups to overcome them?
Since the founding works of sociolinguistics in the 1960s, ‘voice’ has been a central term in order to define the subject of (socio-)linguistic inequalities (having a voice or not) and the aim of language learning processes (“develop a voice worth listening to”, Hymes 1996). In this tradition, it is also a key term to more recent sociolinguistic studies on “linguistic repertoires” (Bell 2013; Blommaert/Backus 2013; Busch 2016; Creese/Blackledge 2010; Rampton/Cook/Holmes 2018) in translocal or ‘superdiverse’ contexts. In these ethnographic and anthropological approaches ‘voice’ names what is at stake for speakers.
However, we hardly find detailed theoretical discussions about what exactly ‘voice’ is, and how the notion can be integrated into methodological frames for analysing sociolinguistic inequalities.
The transdisciplinary conference proposes to provide an opportunity to discuss whether it is necessary and useful to develop a nuanced theoretical account of ‘voice’ as a notion with epistemological value for analysis of ethnographic linguistic data. What would such an account look like and to which contexts could it be applied? Should the concept rather be treated as one that helps to formulate the critical claims of sociologists and sociolinguists while other theoretical concepts would be applied in analysis? Or does the rich conceptual treasure of sociolinguistic notions already provide us with sufficient means to investigate ‘having a voice’? Which concepts remain to be better developed?

Registration and submission of abstracts: here (max 300 words)

Decisions will be communicated on March 31st, 2020

No registration fees.

Anna-Christine Weirich (INRS & Université Goethe, Frankfurt),
Nicole Gallant (INRS)



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