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ISSN: 1750-8649 (print)

ISSN: 1750-8657 (online)



Reflecting on methodology and methods
Mary H. Maguire
This special themed issue includes a selection of articles that emerged from a larger
qualitative, ethnographic study of multilingual childrens identity construction, identity
politics and cultural positioning in heritage language contexts in Montreal, Quebec,
Canada. The McGill Multilingual Literacies Research team formed in 2000 is like
a microcosm of the very phenomena of multilingualism under consideration. Most
team members are people who were multilingual from earliest childhood, went to
and/or taught in heritage language contexts and are aware of the nuanced meanings
of their particular contexts. Our coming together occurred naturally out of a shared
interest in the experiences of multilingual students, multiple languages and literacies
in a province where French is spoken by a large majority of the population and a city
where communities speak in languages from all over the world. Although we have
since become more consciously aware of Montreal as a unique space for understanding
identity politics and multiple languages (Maguire, Beer, Attarian, Curdt-Christiansen
and Yoshida 2005), we were only tacitly aware of its significance in our initial research
endeavours. Indeed we were engaged and immersed in multilingual research without
knowing how to do it or that we were consciously doing it! (Roth 2006).
Keywords: heritage language contexts

Department of Integrated Studies in Education , McGill University, Canada
Correspondence: Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, 3700 McTavish Street,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3A 1Y2

Sols vol 1.1 2007 524

2007, equinox publishing

doi : 10.1558/sols.v1i1.5

Sociolinguistic Studies

1 Inquiry as interacting dialogic processes

This special themed issue includes a selection of articles that emerged from
a larger qualitative, ethnographic study of multilingual childrens identity
construction, identity politics and cultural positioning in heritage language
contexts in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The McGill Multilingual Literacies
Research team formed in 2000 is like a microcosm of the very phenomena of
multilingualism under consideration. Most team members are people who
were multilingual from earliest childhood, went to and/or taught in heritage
language contexts and are aware of the nuanced meanings of their particular
contexts1. Our coming together occurred naturally out of a shared interest in
the experiences of multilingual students, multiple languages and literacies in
a province where French is spoken by a large majority of the population and a
city where communities speak in languages from all over the world. Although
we have since become more consciously aware of Montreal as a unique space
for understanding identity politics and multiple languages (Maguire, Beer,
Attarian, Curdt-Christiansen and Yoshida 2005), we were only tacitly aware
of its significance in our initial research endeavours. Indeed we were engaged
and immersed in multilingual research without knowing how to do it or that
we were consciously doing it! (Roth 2006).
The multilingual nature of our research team is reflected in our own reflexivity about who are we are as a team in these excerpts from an audio taped
meeting on June 25, 2002.

And it was serendipity that I found it... And then you leave it
by saying among all of us we figured we had ten languages?

Arminee: What happened was we went in and we had to fill out all these
forms, because they asked for our passports... So we all went
in with our colourful passports... And we started counting our
languages and chit chatting with them (officers at the border)
and it turned out to be quite an insight for us.

So it would be French, English, Arabic, Eastern and Western

Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, Danish, Korean, Spanish and
Italian. [Note: Urdu and Persian were added year 3].

In this excerpt, reference is made to the memory of a border-crossing incident

when members were en route to a conference and which they recounted in a
previous team meeting. It resurfaced when I revisited the transcripts of our
meetings. It signalled to me our increasing awareness of the linguistic and
cultural diversity of our research team. This diversity enriched our understanding of inquiry as interacting dialogic processes, increased our awareness of
the complexities of human inquiry and equally the complex nature of data

reflecting on methodology and methods

Each author examines the reflexive value of a dialogic approach and a

voice-cantered-relational methodology in different ways. Adopting a dialogic
approach has enabled presentation of contextualized, situated, nuanced insights
into why researchers do what they do, how a person makes this interpretation
rather than another, and how some research decisions or interpretations are
historically situated in the autobiography of the person doing the research. The
larger project is situated within qualitative, ethnographic, sociocultural, and
postmodern approaches that examine the relationships between language learners and their social worlds. Postmodern approaches recognize the chameleon
character of socio-linguistic-cultural realities, encourage dialogic relationships
that shape experiences, embrace a multiplicity of voices in representation,
analysis and interpretation of phenomena (Maguire et al. 2005). The authors
subjectivities inform their inquiries and conscious positioning within their
texts that are linguistically marked by their use of the first person. From a
Bakhtinian perspective, consciousness never gravitates towards itself but is
always found in intense relationship with another consciousness (1984:32).
Voice is central to the discoursal construction of identity and representation of
self. I conceptualize voice in different ways. It is an epistemological stance taken
toward understanding multiliterate participants evaluative orientations and
identity politics and how they are manifested in their acts of meaning, verbal
expressions through language and discourse choices. It is a methodological
stance toward what lies in the data to be heard that means listening to voice
and for voice. It implies a socio-political stance towards research in multiple
languages, literacies and communities in heritage language contexts and why
the authors have undertaken the work they do.
In this new millennium, concepts such as multiple discourses, literacies
and identities evoke complex and conflicting interpretations; provoke new
challenges and the need for multiple perspectives. In our multilingual team,
multiple perspectives inevitably emerged by virtue of our diversity. However,
three characteristics of our epistemological/methodological stance are reflected
in the articles: use of the first person the epistemic speaking subject;
appreciation of participants perspectives; and inquiry as interacting dialogic
processes (Bakhtin 1984). I have argued elsewhere (Maguire 2006) that the
introduction of the first person in research texts is a postmodern response
to the crisis of representation and current angst about identity a crisis with
roots in epistemology, ethics and ontology (Denzin and Lincoln 2001). Thus,
researchers and participants subjectivities and positionings are assumed and
appreciated in postmodern views of human inquiry as complex interacting
dialogic processes. New interpretive turns in postmodern approaches call for
researcher self-reflexivity about methodologies and methods and acknowledge

Sociolinguistic Studies

the impact of personal and situational influences on research and its findings,
and contextualized nature of research events.

2 Reflecting on methodologies
Methodology refers to the epistemological framing of an inquiry that includes
prior understandings of phenomenon and the very contextual factors that
mediate actions, particular choices of theories, interpretations and representations over others. Methods refer to the familiar tools of qualitative and
ethnographic inquiry such as observations, interviews, document analysis and
visual evidence that is, the material evidence collected and which constitute
resources for constructing data and writing plausible research stories. As a
qualitative/ethnographic researcher and university teacher of graduate courses
in research methods, I argue that a mixed methods approach fails to make this
important distinction between methodology and methods, compromises and
under appreciates the complexities of human inquiry. Proponents of mixed
methods frequently misinterpret the terms methodologies and methods using
them interchangeably. In doing so, they believe they are engaging in methodological pluralism, adopting an epistemological ecumenicalism (Johnson and
Onwuegbuzie 2004) by integrating triangulating procedures that help eliminate
subjective and local influences. Roth (2005) critiques methods people who hail
the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods as a major breakthrough in scientific inquiry. I agree with Roth that a dialogic view of research
and authoring points to the need for researchers to confront issues of voice,
consciousness, emotionality and answerability/responsibility in authoring self
and others (Maguire 2006). Bakhtins understanding of subjects as authors or
their discursive existence resonates with the epistemological assumptions and
methodological aspirations of postmodern, interpretive scholars pushing the
boundaries of social science and humanities research (Clifford and Marcus
1986, Geertz 1988, Roth 2005).
In the rest of this introductory article, I reflect on understandings which
were not clear to us at the beginning of our research endeavour and evolved
over time through many reflexive turns as well as political considerations about
the type of work we do and why. I take the position that a relational ontology
and epistemology assumes a view of human beings as embedded in a complex
web of intimate and larger sociocultural relations that cannot be reduced to
mechanistic coding procedures or the technical apparatus of software packages. A reflexive methodology assumes a presupposition of subjectivity as an
essential, unavoidable core attribute of human inquiry and emphasizes the
constructive, dialectical and historical nature of social science research. Thus,

reflecting on methodology and methods

all the texts in this special themed issue provoke new thinking about how in a
postmodern world, we as subjects, objects, authors and narrators need to
confront issues of identity and representation, explore more expansive ways and
create new forms in which we construct our research texts. We are not third
person, nameless, ahistorical, one-dimensional subjects or acultural beings,
researching from a position of nowhere.
Each author deals with issues and challenges in sociolinguistic studies from a
different location and perspective. Several adopt a narrative approach. Attarian
explores language and identity issues through an intergenerational oral history
project within a small group of trilingual Montreal Armenian children in
informal Saturday literacy group sessions. These sessions provided alternative
spaces for the promotion of Armenian literacy. Her analysis of the videotaped
account of the session reveals fascinating evidence of the childrens engagement
with the oral history project, their collective meaning making through dialogue,
and interweaving of their narratives. Their encounter with oral history involved
coming to terms with memory and an intergenerational legacy that juxtaposes
stories from the past with stories in the present.
Beer and team members construct genres of differences within narratives
of and conversations about a routine familiar teaching practice: the dictation
exercise or dicte, a ubiquitous practice that occurs in a variety of language
learning settings internationally and all members experienced in some form.
They explore dictation in six language contexts (Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
Armenian, French and English). Organized into four themes power issues
in the classroom; conservative vs. innovative pedagogies; linguistic features;
implications this piece raises intriguing questions about the relationships
between literacy and student empowerment in different contexts. How do
power imbalances interact with pedagogical beliefs, linguistic features, community contexts and students voices? Several members expressed strong, diverse
reactions to the use of dictation, both in their own personal experience and in
the classrooms they were observing. These differences emerged in audiotaped
team meetings, thus providing a methodological audit trail of our conversations, plans and actions. Discussions continually provoked further dialogue
and questions about language teachers discursive practices: What motivates
teachers to use dictation in language classrooms? What do language and literacy
learners experience when doing a dictation?
From a socio-constructive perspective, Curdt-Christiansen undertakes an
examination of the ways in which the tools of communication and self-expression contribute to the learning and social lives of trilingual Chinese children in
a Chinese Heritage Language School in Montreal. Working within a Vygotskian


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frame, she proposes a consideration of the socio-cultural-linguistic classroom

contexts and the mediational potential of languages as cultural tools in teachers
discursive practices and childrens social interactions with them and their peers.
She explores how the childrens socialization networks, friendship patterns and
daily social interactions can influence their language choices. Data come from
a large ethnographic study of trilingual Chinese childrens literacy practices,
and consist of the video transcripts that illustrate types of interactional pattering evidenced in teacher-student utterances, student-teacher utterances
and student-student utterances (Curdt-Christiansen 2004). Since some of the
children in this inquiry may attend an English or a French school during the
week, establishing a sense of belonging in a Saturday heritage language context
means not only finding a social space and establishing friends but also negotiating a third or fourth language for play and participation on the playground. At
what point do children attach symbolic meanings and affiliations to language
and language use in particular contexts?
Konidaris and Maguire present portraits of two Greek adults perceptions
of growing up as Bill 101 trilinguals in Montreal, a unique urban space to
understand how allophone students take up or revise their subject positions in
becoming and being trilingual. Bakhtins dialogic theory and Bourdieus theory
of capital provide a conceptual frame to understand their perceptions of the
role of particular resources in their trilingualism and the social, cultural and
political meanings they attach to them. These young Montrealers constructed
their trilingual identities, through their daily interactions, within diverse social
networks of parents, relatives, teachers and peers within home, school and work.
The sociocultural resources that influenced their self positioning as trilinguals
can be attributed to their access to different forms of capital: access to literacy
resources in the three languages, to family cultural resources and to wider
social networks and affiliations with significant interlocutors. In a globalized
world of increasing change and instability, expressing a sense of who one is and
where one belongs can enhance understanding of self and others from different
points of enunciation (Bakhtin 1984). Hybridity identity, a complex way of
representing and positioning oneself within larger social-cultural differences
and diasporan spaces, signal the need to understand local actions as well as
shaping global stances towards multilingualism.
Drawing on methodologies from post structuralism and symbolic interactionism, Lee provides a fresh perspective on a niggling problem that might be
dismissed as cross-cultural issues in teaching foreign students with assumptions
that students need to learn the ways of the host institution, incurring a level
of necessary socialization: a view that holds little regard for the complexity of
their lives. She examines layers of symbolic power and unravels undifferentiated assumptions of dominance and minority status, and the accruing power

reflecting on methodology and methods


and agency among a selected group of Korean International students identity

trajectories in a Canadian university. While Canadian universities appear to
welcome diversity these Korean students personal narratives about their learner
agency, perceptions of cultural capital and academic literacy practices suggest
they negotiate complex social relations inside and outside the academy. Using
Bourdieus critical social theory, Bakhtins dialogism and Vygotskys sociocultural theory as a conceptual frame, this article and her larger inquiry challenge
the homogeneity of students perceptions of the cultural capital of academic
literacy practices. The diversity among these Korean students also challenge
institutional attributed, homogenizing identity labels such as ESL writer and
non-native writer (Lee 2006).
Sadeghi argues that translation is an act of interpretive dialogue between
the narrator and translator and marks the historical, sociocultural, and political contexts within which language is used to communicate meanings. Her
examination of translation in bilingual research challenges modernist views
that see translation as an objective activity capable of rendering the language
and ideas of one language into a faithful and true account in another language.
In focusing on translation as a methodological aspect of bilingual research, she
approaches translation as a dynamic, multifaceted process in which translator
and translation are co-implicated in the meaning making from interviews and
verbal accounts provided in a language that is not the language of the research
report (Sadeghi 2005).
In summary, the methodologies in these inquiries although diverse have
several characteristics: a contextualized sociocultural approach, research conducted in the heritage language, use of the first person, a commitment to the
complexities of human inquiry as dialogic processes, and epistemological
assumptions of voice and self reflexivity as core features of the principles guiding the inquiries.

3 Reflecting on methods
Many research methods textbooks purport to introduce readers, especially
novice researchers, to the how to of research. However, as Roth argues many
fail to do justice to the complexity of doing research (Roth 2006:4), especially
the reflexive nature of qualitative and ethnographic research. Reflexivity can
be characterized as self-awareness and thinking more deeply about what we
do (Ashmore 1989:32). It can also refer to re-reference, that is, the possibility
for all statements to refer to themselves. The social sciences are implicitly selfreferential as they concern the study of humans (Giddens 1976). Important
aspects of interpretive inquiry then are the perspectives that researchers bring
to research sites and contexts and their choice of tools of inquiry such as
interviews, observations and document analysis.


Sociolinguistic Studies

Few research methods textbooks mention the language competence and

personhood of the researcher. Through observations, analysis of texts, interviews, visual evidence and close attention to multiple aspects of school and
home contexts documented in the relevant heritage language itself, enabled
our multilingual research team members to move beyond the common
problem of researchers working in a dominant language and culture. Each
researcher is a member of that language and culture and became the expert
informant and mediator for the team. We could not have engaged in empathic
understandings (Bakhtin 1990) of how participants from non-mainstream
backgrounds who have multiple school experiences negotiate multiple literacies in heritage language contexts from any of the current research methods
textbooks. I use videotaping as an example of the complexities inherent in
the data collected complexities we began to better appreciate the more
we engaged in doing the research and dialoguing about the tools of inquiry
over time.
Many research studies reporting videotape analysis typically begin with
an innocuous statement that video tapes were transcribed and analysed.
Transcription of audio and/or videotapes of verbal speech into written text
is a complex, interpretive activity (Mishler 1991, Ochs 1979). I demonstrate
this complexity in the following excerpts from transcripts that involved our
use, examination and interpretation of videotapes in three heritage contexts,
Japanese, Armenian and Chinese. I use them here to emphasize my argument
about the complexities of human inquiry, the relational nature of research,
contextualized, subjective nature of information gathered over a three-four
year period, and the intertwined intersubjectivities among researchers and
Excerpt 1: Japanese language centre video showing
It is February 4, 2004. We are meeting to view a video of a classroom at the
Japanese Language Centre in Montreal. The Video/TV are set up. Reiko, the
researcher working in this context, stands near the machine and speaks to us
while looking sideways at it. We are clustered around the table watching the
screen as we listen to and audiotape her commentary in English as the video
unfolds in Japanese. Reiko taught three different classes of young children.
Here she is talking about and presenting a videotape of the school and her last
class. In column 1, one can follow an English summary of the video clips as
Reiko presents them to the group in the team meeting. In column 2, one sees
the interruptions, digressions and code-switching that naturally occurs during
the viewing and that is captured on audiotape.

reflecting on methodology and methods

Video summary
This video opens with Reiko filming as she
walks up the steps to a Montreal secondary
school on a snowy winter day. The steps and
entrance are typical for a public high school in
Montreal built circa late 1950s. We accompany
the camera into the entrance hall and through a
first door. Parents are emerging from there and
every one is a visible part of the diversity of the
city African, South Asian perhaps from
another heritage language program earlier in the
morning? Through another door and there is a
traditional corridor with lines of group
photographs of graduating years and special
awards Anglophone. More doors and on these
doors: High school students are not allowed
through these doors (in English) and Dfense
de fumer (in French).

Audio transcription
Reiko: This is a school at, uh, on xxx road at
xxx school. I wanted to share with you what
Ive done in the past few years. I started the
research at the Japanese Hoshuko, April 2000.
Then I carried on for two years and a half, I
think, and then teaching at the Japanese
language centre I started at the Japanese
language centre in 2001 and I taught three
different classes. I will show you the
videotape of the last class I had. I didnt
prepare any handout or anything you can
ask me any questions. Feel free to stop me.
This is the school on xxxx xxx High School
and we went to the Adult Education Centre
(noise from video). We go on Saturday for
two hours. We dont have to (= we arent
allowed to) post anything Japanese so its very
much just a classroom theres not a big
sense of belonging to the school. Thats a big
difference from Japanese school. Montreal
Japanese language centre. (noise of children
on tape). This is where parents stay they are
all while the children are having
classrooms, the parents stay This is my
class. She (person teaching in the video) is a
new teacher who is taking over my class. She
(the other adult person in the video) is an
assistant; shes there just for the day.

Now another corridor near classroom number

222. Mothers are leaving their childrens coats
and school bags and settling their young
children then leaving. Then we are into the
classroom, and suddenly into a Japanese
language environment. The Kindergarten
teacher is singing as she helps the children find
their places. She is confident and relaxed, very
focused. The school maps and pictures on the
wall are not Japanese an explicit sign the
children are in a host environment other than
Xiao Lan: you have an assistant? How many
All the children (there appear to be eight)
Reiko: I have ten students in my class but
appear to be speaking Japanese.
because they are small, they have to go to the
The teacher takes attendance at the shared table bathroom. I cannot possibly go. So the
near the chalkboard. She makes it fun saying assistant takes them to the bathroom.
each childs name with great relish and energy She (the person leading the class) was a
professional teacher for Kindergarten. She
and waiting expectantly for their response.
worked for 8 years she is very experienced.
Then the class helps the teacher with the date And he is K. (one of the students Reiko is
24-1 using numbers on pieces of paper. One pointing at the video screen), his father is
student is asked to come to help put these up on Japanese and his mother is Quebecois... the
a big paper with Japanese characters at the father speaks to him in Japanese. And
board. She comes willingly but is shy to (pointing again) here is X who is Japanese and
actually hook on the numbers. All the children Armenian (exclamations of surprise from the
practice saying the numbers as they go through group!).
Xiao Lan: What, what language centre is this?
Then they have weather-picture cards the
teacher does a lot with mime and visuals Is it Reiko: Montreal Japanese Language Centre.
cloudy? Is it sunny?
Xiao Lan: Oh.
The video then cuts to a corridor and down
some stairs to a book locker / storage room. Hourig: You work at the Hoshuko?
This must be where the materials are kept.
There are boxes, posters, books, dictionaries, Reiko: No, I work here. And then in the, at 11
musical instruments and supplies, very neat but oclock, we had, okay; here is some activity
that they do. This is something that I did when
cramped in a small space.
I was young as well It is exercise time and
Back to the classroom. Brief view of a domestic we have rajio taisou.
science room, with a set of hotplates / stoves
Ann: Oh!
then back to the class in room 222.



Sociolinguistic Studies
Video summary

Audio transcription

Then in the corridor again and briefly to room Hourig: What do you do?
226. Older children are studying in Japanese
Ann: You do what?
Back to the K class. They are going to do an Xiao Lan: Is the skill organized? Structured?
activity making a kind of triangle out of
newspaper that makes a noise when the teacher Reiko: Yeah.
(who demonstrates brilliantly) pulls the paper
triangle down quickly. (It is a bit like origami Hourig: What do you do?
but with newspaper!).
Reiko: Its called rajio taisou. Its a radio
The teacher is very attentive and physically exercise.
affectionate with the children, putting her hand
on their head or shoulder, having them hold her Xiao Lan: They have that too. (Reference to
hand, etc. They are extremely motivated and the Chinese heritage language school).
focused and seem very happy. She sings again.
The children laugh and imitate her paper Reiko: And when I was (inaudible), everyone
in Japan, we were supposed to do it 6 am.
folding with varying degrees of success.
The teacher constantly puts movements and Xiao Lan: When? Ten?
words together.
Reiko: 6 am... 6 am, um
Then the scene shifts to corridor exercises
(stretching to music) that the children have Xiao Lan: At home here?
come out to do. There is very little room
Hourig: So you get up and you have to do it?
Then back to 222 and reading aloud session, the
teacher showing them a picture book and Reiko: Either at home, and during the summer
encouraging them to say what is in the picture. break, youre supposed to go to the park
The children talk about the pictures. They are nearby and then every children get together
and then they do the exercise. And this is the
happy and relaxed.
boy who is in, uh, in four year old. Hes the
Then the children eat their snack fruit one who drew this, uh, Anpanman boy with
(orange/grapes), fruit juices, and some cookies. curly hair.
Everyone: Oh!
Reiko: And hes a bright bright kid. His
mother is quarter Japanese. His mothers
father was Japanese and the mother was
Quebecois, I believe, but they were separated
when she was young. But she kept this
identity, that yes, Im Japanese. She herself is
taking Japanese and shes quite motivated.
Although shes not always doing the work.
But shes very motivated. And she wants her
son to have this Japanese identity and
Japanese manners and you know, language
and everything. And he always brings
Japanese cookies, Japanese, uh, okashi, what
do you say? Coo
Sahira: Snacks.
Reiko: Snacks, yeah. We have recess at 11
oclock, after the exercise, we wash hands and
then we eat for fifteen minutes. And then he
always brings Japanese stuff, because his
mother wants him to, he brings Japanese stuff.

reflecting on methodology and methods


3.1 Reflecting in and on action

In this team meeting, several issues emerged as we engaged in reflecting in
and on action with two media video and audio. The idea of audiotaping
team meetings proved invaluable in sorting out methodological issues such as
viewing videotapes in a language that the rest of the members do not speak.
However, this methodological decision largely stemmed from more pragmatic
concerns. The person responsible for recording minutes of our meetings and
decisions often felt she could not participate in the conversation. In addition, the
problem of the recorder having to ask how to spell words in a particular heritage
language interrupted the dialogue and flow of conversation. The audiotapes
enabled us to revisit our dialogues and reveal subtle slides of meaning (theres
not a big sense of belonging to the school; they have that too), new interpretive turns (looking at children from mixed backgrounds he is Japanese and
Armenian) and emerging themes (identity and language she wants her son
to have this Japanese identity) that we had not seen initially. In this viewing
session, the language of the research and translation issues became to the foreground in our conversations. These interpretive turns capture the interpersonal
nature of the event, the multiple interactions that allow us to make transitions
between the various dialogues and relationships that are defining our research
process. The videotape summaries in English helped members who did not
speak the language to connect the video images to the interpretive turns being
constructed and co-constructed as we viewed and dialogued. Thus, we were
able to establish a synergy in meetings that reflected multiple voices and also
provided intellectual space for expanding our understandings about teaching
and learning in heritage language contexts. The next excerpt occurs a month
later in another team meeting in which we are viewing a video of Saturday fun
sessions in Armenian.
Excerpt 2: Video clip Armenian fun sessions
It is March 2, 2004. Hourig is presenting a clip from a video of her Saturday
fun sessions to our team. She explains as she holds an ID document that can
also be seen on the video: He is asking who is it that kept this photo? I even
have an ID document from Iraq, and then it says what colour were his eyes,
how tall he was and he says: Its all written here, but I cannot read it because
it is in Arabic.
Daron: Yes, so we even have their ID document from Iraq and its written here what colour are his eyes, what colour is his hair, how
long he is, its all written here, but I cant read it, its in
Hourig: Do you want us to read it? Do you want me to tell you what colour
were his eyes?


Sociolinguistic Studies

Daron: Ok.
Hourig: So it says that grandfather Hagop was 175 cm.
Arin: Ooooohhhh.
Hourig: His eyes were blue, his nose an average size (the kids can hardly
contain their laughter). His [grandfather Hagops] birth date.
Arin: (in English) Date of birth?
Hourig: Yes, are you ready to hear his date of birth?
Arin: Yes.
Hourig: 1867.
Arin: (repeats the same in English) Eighteen sixty seven?
Hourig: Yes.
Daron: Oh-oh.
Hourig: His fathers name.
Daron: If he lived now he would have been one hundred and forty no, one
hundred and forty seven years old.
Anahid: (astonished) Haaaaaa.
Hourig: His fathers name was Hovhannes Der Arsenian.
Anahid: (whispering) A hundred and forty seven years old, wow!
Hourig: Yes, his fathers birth place is again the same, Izmit, Turkey
and his date of birth was 1847.
Anahid: (whispering again) Phew wow.
Arin: A hundred (shes busy counting).

3.2 Reflecting in action and re-referencing

This excerpt illustrates the intersecting nature of the research endeavour, from
formulating questions, gathering information and interpreting its significance,
appreciating the complexity of different types of data such as videotapes and
documents. It is one of many possible accounts collected that can be linked to
the interplay of a researchers discursive actions. It suggests a self-referential
process that does not merely recount past events but creates new stories out of
the conversation, information and interpretations of the participants actions
and utterances. Meaning is created through an interactive dialogue with overlapping conversations that create a space for intersecting dialogic processes
that in turn help us understand the complex, multiple factors that shape this
research event. Parallel conversations are going on with the video as well as
intersecting dialogues among the team members that refer us back to the
research context, its historical settings that include the 1915 genocide. The
point to a re-referencing in the research process that includes asking questions,
gathering information and interpreting and representing data. We ask: What is
this? What is going on here? How can we make sense of the information? Who
is speaking here? Who is listening? In helping the children actively construct
their autobiographies, Hourig asks: How would the children themselves make
the connection between the past and their present situations. We refer back
to her initial questions, which became our questions: Can autobiography and

reflecting on methodology and methods


narratives serve as tools in heritage language instruction? If so, how do they

offer fluid nurturing spaces allowing for identity construction?
This excerpt also illustrates how memories are created discursively through
dialogic interactions, how integrating video and audiotape data sources is
critical for alerting us to what we can be seen, heard and interpreted. Hourigs
explanation of what is going on in the video in which participants are speaking
in a language most team members neither speak or understand is another
example of how multiple dialogues allow for a synergistic intellectual environment, richer conceptual analysis and multiple perspectives to emerge as
illustrated in her article Following the trail of oral history (this issue). These
types of reflexive turns are more than just exercises in introspection. They
provide a space to actively problematize the relationships between an object
and its representation. Taken together the data sources do not result in a neat
ontological package that we can easily triangulate. In retrospect, this excerpt
forced us to challenge the very concept of triangulation, a reductionistic concept
in itself, and the production of singular truths in human inquiry as promised
in many mixed methods approaches.
No method or tool of human inquiry can ecologically substitute for researchers engagement in such a reflexive relationship with the data. The team offers a
dialogic environment that allows us to see and hear things we might not have
done so alone, provides an audit trail for all members to attend to their own
interpretations, engagement, reflexivity and the reflexivity of the self of the
team (Roth 2005). This video clip resulted in new reflexive turns that generated
new questions about language loss, maintenance, and identity politics. The next
excerpt dates back to the beginning of our inquiry, initial coming together as
a team and trying out uses of videotaping as a tool of inquiry. It reflects an
early phase in formulating questions and gathering information during the
research process.
Excerpt 3: Memorization at Zhonguo School
It is winter 2001. We have been coming together as a research team for a few
months. Xiao Lan has been collecting data for a few years at the Zhonguo
Saturday Chinese Heritage School in Montreal. Here she focuses on Lingling,
one of the focal children in her inquiry of Chinese children growing up trilingual in Montreal (Curdt-Christiansen 2004). This particular video clip is an
excerpt from Xiao Lans videotapes of language arts classrooms in one of the
eight Chinese Heritage Language Saturday schools in Montreal. In contrast
to the two previous excerpts that illustrate the complexities and constructive character of human inquiry and the (inter-)subjectivity of a qualitative
research process, this excerpt reflects our starting point in searching for an


Sociolinguistic Studies

epistemic window to understand multilingual literacies, identity politics and

teachers discursive practices in heritage language contexts. Our discussions
focused on memorization and traditional exercises that seemed to characterize
teaching and learning in these contexts. This conversation about memorization stimulated further conversations about dictation tasks and power and
authority issues. This reflective side bar in turn led to the article on the dicte
in multilingual settings and other interpretive inquiries such as a project on
Language ideologies and education: An ethnography of textual resources in
heritage language contexts2.
Ms. Guan: Lingling! How many of us [students] can recite? (She writes
Mindys name on the board. Then she notices Lingling who is
still talking and calls out her name). Lingling!
(Lingling stands up, unprepared) There is a little island in
the Lake of Sun and Moon, which is divided into two parts.
You are reciting the wrong paragraph; it should be the third
Zhang: Recites the third paragraph. (Some students start laughing).
Ms. Guan: Recite the third paragraph.
(Recites fluently) The Sun Moon Lake is located in the high
mountain near Taizhong. It is surrounded by trees and woods.
The lake is deep. Trees and the mountain are inversely
reflected in the lake, very beautiful.
Ms. Guan: If the second paragraph can also be recited, that will be
I know it (Zhang raises his hand again, but is ignored by Ms.
(Ling continues without any hesitation) There is a little
island in the Sun Moon Lake, which divides the lake into two
parts. One side is like a round moon; the other is like a crescent moon.
Ms. Guan: Very good! Who else can recite? (She writes down Lings name on
the board. Ms. Guan calls upon another student).

In reflecting back, we can see more clearly how this transcript clip reflects the
ways in which a written transcript as a text that stands alone is inadequate as a
representation of the original activity and its context even though paralinguistic
features such as gestures and actions are included in the layout of the transcript.
While the transcribed text can slow down the conversational exchanges, it
does not provide insight into the complexities of Linglings developmental
trajectory nor the authorial act of finding her voice in a Saturday Chinese
Heritage Language School, which is described elsewhere (Curdt-Christiansen
and Maguire 2007). The transcribed text needs to be examined in conjunction
with both the video images and the utterances between this teacher, Ms. Guan
and the children in this classroom. Eavesdropping on their talk provoked us to
refine our questions, our methods and strategies for inquiry into multilingual
childrens identity construction and teachers discursive practices in heritage

reflecting on methodology and methods


contexts. While this local conversational exchange is interesting and documents

a traditional teaching practice Mehan characterized as IRE, the larger macro
contexts in which it is embedded is missing such as the influence of Confucian
ideology in teaching and learning of Chinese in heritage schools. In the ensuing years, we began to appreciate the significance of the macro and historical
contexts of our inquiries (Maguire et al. 2005).

4 Reflexivity and political considerations

The inquiries in this themed issue are situated in Quebec an officially unilingual
French province that provides a unique context for exploring multilingual
literacies, identity politics and diasporan communities. Indeed, in a province
where French is spoken by a large majority of the population and in a city
where communities speak in languages from all over the world, interacting
contexts offer diverse spaces to examine multilingual students expressions of
self and negotiations of identity. The research reported here is located within
the nested contexts of relations of power that Canadian philosopher Charles
Taylor describes as a politics of recognition between majority and minority
language groups and conflicting political discourses in Canada and Quebec.
A fundamental epistemological assumption of all the articles in this issue is
that becoming and being biliterate, triliterate or multiliterate is a complex,
context-specific, dynamic and relational process.
In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein (1958) argues that although
we think we are tracing the nature of the thing, we are really only tracing the
frame through which we view it. That the Canadian social fabric is woven in
a multicultural mosaic is a common theme in Canadian political discourses.
Current Canadian urban populations include an increasingly large number of
multilingual immigrant students who experience multiple school experiences
and multiple literacies. The maintenance of minority languages and cultures
may be encouraged in many Canadian provinces, but we know very little about
multilingual childrens or young adults experiences, identity constructions and
discursive practices within the complex political discourses of Canada and
Quebec. I use discursive here to mean particular ways of talking and writing
about or performing ones practices that are coupled with particular social
settings in which those ways of talking are recognized as more or less valuable
(Maguire and Graves 2001:561).
What can we learn from multilingual learners cultural positioning within a
politics of difference and recognition? When we see languages as cultural capital
(Bourdieu 1990) and resourceful funds of knowledge (Moll and Dworin 1996),
the notion of a third space, in which multilingual individuals can live critically
between and among language differences and multiple discourses, presents


Sociolinguistic Studies

many interpretive puzzles and epistemological uncertainties about our own

identities as researchers. Understanding the relationships between individuals,
social practices and political discourses is critical for those in periods of rapid
transition. It is especially important for children and adults when different
languages and cultures intersect in their classrooms, playground or, university
and workplace worlds. When these differences go unrecognized they can cause
disjunctures or even ruptures in their life worlds.
A recurrent leitmotif in our dialogic encounters in research team meetings
has been the concept of recognition and its links to identity and multiple
literacies. Charles Taylor argues that the demand for recognition () is given
urgency by the supposed links between recognition and identity, where this
latter term designates something like a persons understanding of who they
are, of their fundamental defining characteristics as a human being (Taylor
1994:25). A key reflective understanding that has emerged from our groups
self-reflexivity about our research process within a politics of difference and
recognition is the following: language and literacy practices are deeply rooted
in sociocultural, historical, economic and cultural forces that are sometimes
visible, sometimes invisible. Accepting this epistemological assumption then
necessitates contextualized, situated, sociocultural perspectives that mixed
methods approaches often ignore. We read social events, actions, and utterances
interpretively through our various lenses, perspectives, and angles, positions
of power and privilege and location in time, space and place. Revisiting these
transcripts brought our own multilingualism to our consciousness, both as a
multilingual group and as individual members within this collective. Thus,
understandably, an overarching epistemological theme that emerges from
our work is our view of languages as cultural capital and resourceful funds of
knowledge confirming our language as resource orientation and commitment
to dialogic approaches in human inquiry.
One methodological dilemma we continually faced is that the heritage language contexts themselves keep changing as we attempt to portray or define
them. In reflecting back over the past years, I now see more clearly how we
have at times been uncertain about our direction, questioned and examined
our own social-cultural positioning as insiders and outsiders, experienced
shifting epistemologies about what we believe about multiple literacies and
multilingualism, made a number of interpretive and reflective turns in our
methodology and methods, and confronted ethical dilemmas and political
challenges. Thus, we are engaged in discussions of local literacies alongside
historically nuanced meanings of literacy in these different heritage language
contexts. Theories of social reflectivity assume that sociocultural forms or
structures are not objective facts independent of individual activity.

reflecting on methodology and methods


There are also some common and necessary features of multilingual

research. Research occurs over extended time periods. A researcher from
the same language community conducts research and is a competent speaker
of the language. Research interviews are conducted and transcribed first in
the heritage language. Research tools include interviews, document analysis,
participant observations; however some may be more fore grounded for
epistemic reasons over others reasons that link to the personhood of the
researcher. These features contribute greatly to our working assumptions
about language and the reflective understandings we have constructed to date
(Maguire et al. 2005). Language is a dynamic process that exists dynamically
in the socio-historical arena. Language for the individual consciousness lies
in the borderline between one self and the other. A dialogic view of language
embraces the idea that the other cannot be silenced or excluded. Some key
reflective understandings about multiple literacies and establishing cultural
dialogues have emerged: multiliteracy development is deeply rooted in
sociocultural historical, economic and political forces. Becoming and being
biliterate or multiliterate is a complex, dynamic relational process. The act of
finding ones voice can only occur in contexts of equity, justice and mutual
respect and trust. What children or adults experience as literacy practices
in communities, classrooms, families and schools are not neutral, cultural,
social, political phenomena.
The data collection methods provide an audit trail of our evidence and different entry points for new ideas and perspectives to emerge. Methodologically
speaking, they serve multiple functions to help confront ambiguities, contradictions and constraints, to make heritage language schools and contexts
visible in the public/private discourse of schooling and to recognize the ways
in which power relations are embedded in all levels of human inquiry. Most
importantly, I conclude with Bakhtins concept of the act of authoring as
a creative answerability and responsibility that views an authoring self as
answerable to not only the social environment but also for the authoring of
its responses. A dialogic approach lead me and team members to argue for
more generative, participatory views of human inquiry and appreciation for
the valuable roles difference and diversity play in heritage language contexts
especially from an etic view the participants perspectives. A dialogic perspective entails being responsive to the voices of others, being accountable to
self and others, recognizing the relational nature of research, the subjective
nature of knowledge construction and rejecting the image of researchers as
value free, objective observers.


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I gratefully acknowledge the time and effort of the following colleagues in reviewing manuscripts for this special themed issue.
Barbara Graves
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Canada
Nellie Hogikyan
Ph.D. Candidate & Lecturer
Department of Comparative Literature
Universit de Montral
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Beatrice Liorguino
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Bari, Italy
Denise Lussier
Faculty of Education
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Julie Ann Kniskern
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education
Brandon University
Manitoba, Canada

Ralph. G. Setian
English Academic Advisor Consultant
International School
Wuhan University of Science &
Joan Russell
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Education
McGill University
Linda Wason Ellam
Faculty of Education
University of Saskatchewan
Vicki Zack
Adjunct Professor
Faculty of Education
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Council of Teachers of
English for a grant-in-aid from the Research Trust Foundation.
I appreciate the time and expertise of Hourig Attarian who formatted the articles,
checked for missing information and always offered encouragement throughout
the process in putting this issue together.
I am especially grateful to and thank Xon Paulo Rodrguez-Yez of the Universidade de Vigo for his invitation to guest edit this special themed issue and his
continued support throughout the process.

reflecting on methodology and methods


1 The Multilingual Research Team: Ann J. Beer, Mary H. Maguire, Hourig
Attarian, Diane Baygin, Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen, Theresa Dejmek,
Sahira Ikbal, Heekyeong Lee, Shiva Sadeghi, Reiko Yoshida, Armine
2 This project explores how sociocultural, historical perspectives and political ideologies are embedded in the textual resources in heritage language
contexts by using digital data, from textbooks, observations and interviews
with children, teachers and administrators.

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