Andrea Sunyol selected to present employability research at UCL ESR showcase

Dr Andrea Sunyol, ALT postgraduate tutor, is one of three Early career scholars who have been selected by the UCL Collaborative Social Science Domain to present at the UCL Early Stage Researcher (ESR) showcase which will be held next week as part of the UCL Festival of Early Stage Researchers. Andrea will be presenting a paper titled “Becoming employable’: Pre-sessional English courses at an elite university in the UK”. 

The ESR showcase will take place 25-29 January, and Andrea will be presenting on the morning of Thursday the 28th. She will present her postdoc project proposal, which is framed within a research project led by her postdoctoral mentor, our own Dr Miguel Pérez Milans. The project also integrates other doctoral students in the Culture, Communication and Media department who are setting to undertake research along similar lines, working together as a group. Andrea will present her project on pre-sessional EAP courses, representing just one part of a broader research endeavour aiming to understand what employability means and how it is done at this specific moment in higher education institutions in the UK. 

ESRC post-doc fellow Yi Wang writes of Chinese student struggles in a socially-distanced UK for Times Higher Ed

Our own Dr Yi Wang, currently an ESRC post-doc fellow working with Prof Andrea Revesz and former PhD student of Prof Li Wei, has co-written an insightful piece for the Times Higher Education student blogs on the struggles of Chinese international students in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. Read it here:

Note that registration is not required to read the THE student blogs.

In Memoriam for Jan Blommaert (1961-2021), by Adrian Blackledge and Li Wei

The following was sent out on the email list for the British Association for Applied Linguistics, 14 Jan 2021, written by Prof Adrian Blackledge (Stirling) and Director of the UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics, Prof Li Wei.

In memory of Jan Blommaert

Jan Blommaert, who has died age 59, influenced the field of sociolinguistics beyond measure, changing how we think about, and understand, language in social life. 

He took his PhD at Ghent University in 1989, his dissertation a study of Swahili political discourse in Tanzania. From that moment he was indefatigable in pushing at the boundaries of the known.  His research, teaching, and writing always challenged the status quo, while also acknowledging the lessons of history. For all that, it was discussion with colleagues and students that he claimed as his favourite activity. He asked some of the most intriguing, unexpected and thought-provoking questions, always in a supportive and motivating manner. An eternal, insatiable learner, he took pleasure in the generous exchange of ideas – what he called the ludic, fun, pleasure dimensions of academic life. 

He spent a period as head of the Department of African Languages and Cultures at Ghent University; as Professor and Chair at the Institute of Education, University of London; and as Distinguished Professor at University of Jyväskylä. In 2007 he found a home as Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization, and Director of the Babylon Center for the Study of Superdiversity, at Tilburg University. 

Throughout his career he held fast to core principles which guided his practice: to give, to educate, to inspire, and to be democratic. In his professional life he gave of himself beyond the reasonable. By his own nomination a knowledge activist, he made research and scholarship more than relevant, often going out to speak to non-academic audiences, including teachers, social workers, police, refugee support organizations, and many more. 

He took his responsibility as an educator seriously. He expected the best of his students, believing that in aiming, as he said, an inch above their heads, they would respond by reaching for greater heights. He was rarely disappointed. As a researcher, a writer, and a teacher he opened up directions of thought, challenging existing formulations, always moving forward. Whether giving a keynote talk in a crowded conference hall, listening to a student in a tutorial in his office, or sitting in a research team meeting, he inspired with his energy, enthusiasm, and acuity. Indeed he took inspiration as a central instrument and goal of academic and intellectual practiceIn his writing he led his readers to the limits of his own knowledge, gave us a glimpse of what lay beyond, and invited us to explore new intellectual domains.

A consistent theme throughout his scholarship was language and social justice. In his work, as well as in life, he was always ready to confront discrimination and inequality wherever he found them. He consistently worked with and for scholars and institutions in the Global South, building networks and partnerships, offering whatever support and assistance he could, and always learning. Academic partnership must be democratic at all times, never imposed ‘from above’. For him knowledge earned through collaboration was the key to winning the fight for equality. 

He found himself increasingly at odds with the formal strictures of the academy. He resisted what he saw as a new culture in the university, which insisted on competition, while restricting dialogue, collaboration, slowness, and time to think. He fought against academic publishing, which, as he saw it, had become a form of terror for young scholars, rather than a force for creativity and liberation. His means of resistance was to make publication accessible to all. The Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies Babylon, which he founded and jointly edited, currently runs to 249 publications. In recent years, he spent considerable time and energy on Diggit, an online magazine providing an alternative platform for information exchange and debates on digital culture, globalization, and the arts.

To the end, his scholarship continued to provoke and inform, within and without the academy. In recent times he had taken forward the study of online-offline discourse in post-digital societies. Without question, his work will inspire and educate generations of students in the future. As a sociolinguist, applied linguist, ethnographer, and anthropologist, he was the leading scholar of his generation. We will miss him enormously.

He is survived by his wife Pika, and his sons Frederik and Alexander.

Adrian Blackledge, University of Stirling

Li Wei, UCL Institute of Education

In memoriam: Written tributes to Jan Blommaert (1961 – 2021)

We are saddened by the recent loss of Professor Jan Blommaert, sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. We would like to share two tributes written by members of the UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics. Dr Miguel Perez-Milans shared his, written in Spanish, on the EDISO website.

As Professor John O’Regan‘s was published internally at UCL Institute of Education, we share it below.

In memoriam: Jan Blommaert

Prof. Jan Blommaert (image source:

It is with great sadness that we report the premature death of our former colleague, Professor Jan Blommaert, who died of cancer on the 7th January 2021, aged 59. Jan was based at the IOE from 2005 to 2008 when he held the Chair in Applied Linguistics in the Department of Culture Communication and Media. In addition to being a critical thinker of the highest calibre, he was also a most popular teacher and doctoral supervisor. During an academic career spanning more than thirty years, Jan also held posts at the University of Antwerp, University of Jyväskylä, Tilburg University and the University of Ghent. He also held honorary professorships at Beijing Language and Culture University, the University of the Western Cape and the Hellenic American University, and was the recipient of many prestigious awards. Through his prodigious scholarship and his forthright ‘knowledge activism’ his critical presence and influence extended well beyond the three years he spent with us at the IOE.

Born in Belgium, and a graduate of the University of Ghent, Jan became a prominent sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist, making substantial contributions to sociolinguistic theory and to our understanding of the spread of languages and of forms of literacy, always in the context of a deep appreciation of the historical and political conditions in which diverse linguistic and semiotic practices were located across the longue durée. Jan’s was a profoundly historicised understanding of the world and of the place of sociolinguistics in it, which was informed by a close engagement with a wide range of perspectives in structuralism, existentialism, phenomenology, linguistics, anthropology, political economy and postcolonial studies. He cited many influences upon him, including Michel Foucault, Carlo Ginzburg, Bakhtin, Freud, Durkheim, Simmel, Parsons, Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Pierre Bourdieu, Charles Goodwin, Dell Hymes, Michael Silverstein, Erving Goffman, Aaron Cicourel, Harold Garfinkel, Anne Rawls, Fernand Braudel, J.K. Galbraith, Immanuel Wallerstein, Arjun Appadurai and several others. He also studied Marx and Marxism in its diverse varieties, Rational Choice, Macchiavelli, Darwin, G.H. Mead’s work and influence, Dewey, Paolo Freire, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Walter Rodney, Issa Shivji and much African political theory from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Jan’s work variously drew attention to people’s unequal access to universally valuable linguistic resources such as standard English or Dutch and the continued significance of inequality in the midst of a communicative superdiversity brought about by globalisation processes, increased human mobility and the explosion in new communications technologies in the later twentieth century. He was also a powerful advocate of ethnography, ethnopoetics and the study of ideology and discourse. We see that reflected in publications such as Discourse (2005), The Sociolinguistics of Globalization (2010), Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Introduction (with Dong Jie) (2010), and Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes: Chronicles of Complexity (2013). Jan was at all times deeply concerned with the human condition and the production and management of meaning, very often in circumstances of inequality and ‘loss of voice’ amongst the marginalised and dispossessed. The recollection by Philip Seargeant, a past doctoral student of Jan’s, provides an evocative picture of the Jan we all knew. We see how his work was driven by a wish to understand the human condition and to expose the sociolinguistic, ideological, discursive and structural processes that were responsible for constituting human subjectivity within unequal relations of power and meaning. Jan had a burning desire to make the world a more equitable place and to dig down into the material realities of human experience and discover what people actually did with the linguistic resources at their disposal in the contexts in which they found themselves. This is not only evident in his prolific and often ground-breaking academic work, but also in the vast archive of postings and commentaries he made on broader social and political issues, as well as on sociolinguistics, on his blog Ctrl+Alt+Dem and public platforms such as YouTube. He was also well known as an independent political commentator and thinker in Belgian public discourse. It is a rich legacy that leaves us with a good deal to think about and to encourage us. Jan was much admired as a scholar, didact and colleague, and as a kind and gentle man. The esteem in which Jan was held possibly also stemmed from the fact that he was an activist and theorist who embodied for many the passion and commitment that led them to a career in education and research. Jan’s was a singular contribution in the very highest traditions of critical academic enquiry and service to the public good. He will be greatly missed. Adieu dear Jan.

Nathan Thomas, PGTA and PhD student, wins AAAL’s Wilga Rivers Graduate Student Award of 2021

The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) had over 2,000 proposals for the 2021 conference in March. Of those 2,000, the 22 highest scoring graduate student proposals were reviewed by a panel along with the presenters’ CV and recommendation letters for the award. Nathan was chosen this year as the winner of the Wilga Rivers Graduate Student Award.

In his FaceBook post, Nathan says that he is very proud to represent the UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics at AAAL next March and we are very proud of you, Nathan!

New book! ‘Education and the Discourse of Global Neoliberalism’, edited by John Gray, John O’Regan and Catherine Wallace

We are proud to announce the publication of a new book: ‘Education and the Discourse of Global Neoliberalism’ (2021, Routledge), originally a special issue of Language and Intercultural Communication. The edited volume contains chapters by current and past UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics and Culture, Communication and Media department staff and students.

We highlight in particular contributions from Miguel Perez-Milans, Catherine Wallace, David Block, William Simpson, John Gray, John O’Regan, John Hardcastle, and John Yandell.

Details about the book are available on the publisher’s website here.

Congratulations to all!

Special issue of Social Semiotics on ‘how writing tells the story of cities’ features research by Li Wei and Miguel Perez-Milans

A special issue of the academic journal Social Semiotics has been published, inspired by a UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and University of Hong Kong research project on writing in the city.

The project offers a new way of researching the changing urban landscape by looking at changes to towns and cities and the role language plays in this. As part of the project, every article within this special edition looks at how writing in the city both makes cities and allows people to know cities. The project is led by Professor Li Wei (IOE) and Professor Adam Jaworski (HKU) and was originally funded by UCL Grand Challenges.

The issue includes a study by Professor Li Wei and Professor Zhu Hua (University of Birmingham) looking at handwritten signs in public places and how they work against a context of urban regeneration and socio-cultural transformation. Also included is a study Dr Miguel Perez-Milans, in which he extends the notion of writing to include architectural discourses and multimedia performances about imagined cities. Through examining this, Dr Perez-Milans looks at how people’s ‘professional selves’ are created.

Read the full IOE news announcement here.