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Cartographies of Differences

Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Edited By Ulrike M. Vieten and Gill Valentine

This volume investigates the process of learning how to live with individual and group differences in the twenty-first century and examines the ambivalences of contemporary cosmopolitanism. Engaging with the concept of ‘critical cartography’, it emphasizes the structural impact of localities on the experiences of those living with difference, while trying to develop an account of the counter-mappings that follow spatial and social transformations in today’s world. The contributors focus on visual, normative and cultural embodiments of difference, examining dynamic conflicts at local sites that are connected by the processes of Europeanization and globalization.
The collection explores a wide range of topics, including conflicting claims of sexual minorities and conservative Christians, the relationship between national identity and cosmopolitanism, and the ways that cross-cultural communication and bilingualism can help us to understand the complex nature of belonging. The authors come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and all contribute to a vernacular reading of cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, aimed at opening up new avenues of research into living with difference.
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Conducting Qualitative Research in English and Spanish: Recognising the Active Roles of Participants in Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Projects

← 182 | 183 →ROSA MAS GIRALT

Conducting Qualitative Research in English and Spanish: Recognising the Active Roles of Participants in Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Projects

ABSTRACT: Existing literature on conducting cross-linguistic and cross-cultural projects depicts research participants as relatively passive elements in qualitative research communication processes. In contrast, this chapter considers the active roles of participants as linguistic and cultural agents who construct collaborative verbal accounts with the researcher/interpreter during research. Drawing from a bilingual (English/Spanish) study undertaken with Latin American and Latino-British families and informants in the north of England, I highlight the fluidity of the linguistic processes involved in the design, implementation and writing of cross-linguistic/cultural research and the blurred boundaries between languages when using them in the field. It is in linguistic collaboration with the participants that researchers/interpreters can develop better understandings of the cultural and social meanings carried by the expressions used in the research encounter. This collaboration also helps to foreground how the linguistic and cultural perspectives of the participants inform the findings of research.


With the increased importance of international migration and material and immaterial transnational flows, multilingual and multicultural environments have become everyday realities in many localities across the world. The sounds of diversity are multilingual and the ability to speak different ← 183 | 184 →languages or to adjust to language varieties1 and cross-cultural contexts has been identified as an important element of cosmopolitan communication (e.g. Rönnström 2011). In fact, crossing cultural and linguistic domains has become quite a common experience for many human geographers and other social scientists when trying to develop better understandings of contemporary diverse environments and of the experiences of living with difference.

However, it has proved difficult to agree on a single definition of cross-linguistic or cross-cultural research and on the ways in which they are often intertwined (e.g. Skelton 2009; Smith 1996). In general terms, cross-linguistic research occurs when a project involves the use of one or more languages different from the one in which the research is being conducted.2 Similarly, cross-cultural research is understood to be conducted in ‘different spaces, places, or spatialities to those the researcher would usually identify themselves with’ or when ‘the researcher may remain in their same “usual” space or place and yet be able to conduct cross-cultural research’ (Skelton 2009, 398). Although these definitions can avoid charges of essentialism by acknowledging that languages, cultures, places and people (including researchers and participants) do not have fixed and self-contained characteristics or identities, there is disagreement on how many spatial, linguistic or cultural ‘boundaries’ need to be crossed for research to be defined as cross-linguistic or cross-cultural (e.g. Skelton 2009; Müller 2007; Smith 1996).

This chapter locates itself within approaches which consider that cross-cultural research can be undertaken in ‘usual’ places of residence but involving the crossing of what may be defined, as ‘cultural’ boundaries, including linguistic ones. It draws from a project I conducted in the north of ← 184 | 185 →England (UK) with a resident migrant population in 2009–10. Therefore, it was undertaken in my usual place of residence (but not my place of birth as I am myself a migrant from Catalonia in Spain) but working with Latin Americans3 and their children. Thus, it involved the ‘crossing’ of linguistic and socially constructed boundaries both for me and for the participants. Paradigm shifts in sociolinguistics in the last few decades have destabilised traditional understandings of languages as clearly defined, fixed and demarcated constructs, foregrounding instead their blurred boundaries and their intrinsic diversity, mixedness and fluidity (Blommaert and Rampton 2011, 3). The research on which this chapter is based illuminates a range of linguistic and cultural crossings, including geographical trajectories (i.e. migrant researcher and migrant participants from different sending societies) and language varieties (i.e. varieties of Spanish from Spain and from multiple countries in Latin America; but also varieties of English as a first or second language).

The chapter originates in reflections made during the design, implementation and writing of the research regarding the use of English and Spanish (and their varieties) in the field and of the ‘cultural’ and ‘linguistic’ proximities and distances between myself as the researcher and the participants. It is important to highlight that in this project I acted as both researcher and translator. Therefore, the chapter focuses on issues that arose from this dual role during the research. There are related matters that must be taken into account when working with interpreters and translators, who are not the investigators, but these are not addressed here (see for example Birbili 2000; Temple and Young 2004; Lopez et al. 2008; Wong and Poon 2010).

Existing scholarship on cross-linguistic and cross-cultural qualitative research tends to portray research participants as passive elements in processes of interpretation and translation. This chapter explores the combination of English and Spanish (and related cross-cultural issues) ← 185 | 186 →during the development of the above mentioned project in order to highlight the fluidity of the processes involved and the blurred boundaries between languages when using them in the field. It starts by considering briefly how issues of translation have been approached in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research and by introducing the research project on which the chapter is based. It then moves on to explore how cross-linguistic and cross-cultural issues were approached in the project and the insights that may be gained by paying attention to the linguistic and cultural perspectives of the participants.

Translation in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research

As scholars have highlighted, issues related to interpretation and translation are often not addressed in methodological discussions of geographical and other social research which has been conducted in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contexts (e.g. Smith 1996; Smith 2009; Temple and Young 2004; Wong and Poon 2010). This omission, which in practical terms is often explained (although not justified) by the word limit of journal articles and other vehicles of academic writing, renders translation and its meaningful cross-cultural decisions invisible to the reader, hiding important epistemological considerations and unbalancing further the power relations between researchers and participants (e.g. Müller 2007; Smith 1996; Twyman et al. 1999).

Traditional understandings of translation as the linear and technical process of finding linguistic equivalences between source and target languages,4 transparently and without altering meaning, have long been exposed as problematic by linguists and translation specialists (Temple and ← 186 | 187 →Young 2004; Müller 2007). Instead, it has been emphasised that the task of translating from one language to another involves more than identifying meanings and finding equivalent terms and concepts. In fact, ‘[t]ranslators must constantly make decisions about the cultural meanings which language carries, and evaluate the degree to which the two different worlds they inhibit [sic inhabit] are “the same”. (…) In fact the process of meaning transfer has less to do with finding the cultural inscription of a term than in reconstructing its value’ (Simon 1996, 137–138 cited in Temple 2005, 2.2). Therefore, translators are also analysts and cultural brokers in the sense that they take decisions in relation to meaning and cultural equivalences which are not innocuous and free of subjective biases (Temple and Young 2004). For instance, Müller (2007) has explored the difficulties of capturing the political, historical and linguistic connotations of a term when translating it into another language in which the original richness of references may be lost or obscured. ‘Through the inevitable collapse of meaning differences’, he suggests, translation ‘becomes political by re-articulating meaning in the target language and instituting this meaning as valid vis-à-vis other possible meanings, thus eluding the fundamental polyvalency of expressions in the source language’ (Müller 2007, 208).

Thus, translating is not a neutral process and the decisions taken by researchers and translators in relation to it have an impact on the interpretation of the findings, how they are presented and on the power relations inherent in the research process, e.g. how participants are represented (e.g. Birbili 2000; Temple 2005; Wong and Poon 2010; Esposito 2001; Lopez et al. 2008; Temple and Young 2004). Such important epistemological and ethical issues require that researchers provide explicit explanations regarding their translation decisions and the techniques adopted when conducting cross-linguistic qualitative research (e.g. Birbili 2000; Temple 2005).

To render both the act and the politics of translation visible, scholars have suggested the adoption of critical approaches which actively engage with the translated text and the agency of the translator (e.g. Müller 2007; Temple and Young 2004). These involve practical steps aiming to ‘destabilize and denaturalize the hegemony of the translated text’, such as adopting the ‘holus-bolus’ technique which consists of keeping terms and expressions ← 187 | 188 →in the source language in the translated text (Müller 2007, 209). This technique helps to maintain the presence of the source language in the resulting translation and offers the reader the opportunity to assess the translator’s interpretation (Temple and Young 2004).

In addition to these practical steps, another key aspect of adopting a critical approach to translation resides in paying attention to the positionality and personal characteristics of translators as these will play a role in the interpretations and political choices they make (e.g. Müller 2007; Smith 2009). For instance, in cases in which the researcher and translator are the same person, there are a multiplicity of factors that influence the resulting translation, including the biography and personal characteristics of the individual in question, her/his knowledge of the language (or variety of language) and culture of the participants and the researcher’s skills and expertise in the language in which the research is presented (Birbili 2000, n.p.). These characteristics must be openly discussed to facilitate an appraisal of how the positionality of the researcher/translator may have affected the ‘meaning-making process’ of the translation (Smith 2009, 363).

While scholars have highlighted the relevance of the agency of translators and researchers in processes of translation and interpretation (e.g. Müller 2007; Smith 1996; Temple and Young 2004), less attention has been paid to the agency of participants as co-communicators and co-producers of texts in research. This chapter aims to contribute to this area by considering the ‘active’ role of participants in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural research, particularly in the case of projects conducted with migrants who have some or full command of the language of the receiving society. Working with two languages during research is a more fluid and interactive process than is implied in some of the existing literature exploring qualitative cross-linguistic research (e.g. Lopez et al. 2008; Esposito 2001). In fact, participants are not ‘passive’ elements in research interactions but active listeners and speakers who are often equally aware of cultural and linguistic differences. Recognising their active role enables the development of better understandings of the cultural and social meanings carried by the terms and expressions used in research encounters. The next section introduces the project on which the chapter is based before considering the lessons learnt when combining languages during the research.

← 188 | 189 →Working in Spanish and English: Latin American and Latino-British families in the North of England

Despite having a long history, Latin American migration to the UK has increased significantly in the last decade and a half (e.g. McIlwaine et al. 2011). The 2011 Census recorded 165,920 people born in Latin American countries in England and Wales, with the majority (71 per cent) residing in London and the South East of England and only 7 per cent resident in the north of the country (Office for National Statistics 2012).5 Half of these migrants (55 per cent) arrived in the country since 2001 and a third (28 per cent) did so after 2007 (Office for National Statistics 2012). However, Latin Americans have not yet been recognised as an ethnic minority group in the Census, which excludes later generation migrants born in the UK or other countries from this count (Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK 2014). Furthermore, the population is likely to have increased recently as onward migration of Latin Americans from Spain (and other Southern European countries) has become more common since the 2008 financial crisis (e.g. Herrera 2012; McIlwaine 2011).

To date, research on Latin Americans in the UK has mainly been undertaken in London where, as indicated above, the majority of the population resides (e.g. McIlwaine et al. 2011; Bermudez 2010; Sveinsoon 2007). Studies are scarcer for the rest of the country and there is little information on the experiences of children and young people from this group. The project on which this chapter is based aimed to start addressing these gaps in research by focusing on Latin Americans and their children in the north of England. It was conducted in cities and towns in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester with five Latin American and five Latino-British families, including all the ← 189 | 190 →adults and children (8–18 years of age) in the household and totalling 30 participants, and an additional 14 informants and stakeholders. The sample included both long-term and shorter-term migrants (from 20 or more years to a minimum of two) who had arrived as asylum seekers/refugees, economic migrants, students or as a result of marriage to a British citizen. At the time of participation, most of them had regular migration status having acquired British or another European citizenship, but two of the informants were in the country potentially irregularly. Adult participants and informants were born in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Peru, and two of the participant parents were born in Britain. In the case of the children, seven had been born in the UK and five in Latin America but had come to the country at an early age. Fieldwork with the families involved a combination of individual and group activities which were conducted in more than one research encounter and included biographical and semi-structured interviews, person-centred diagrams and biographical objects. Other informants and stakeholders took part in semi-structured interviews too.

Command of both English and Spanish was diverse among participants. Spanish was the first language of all the Latin American adult participants and four of the young people who had come to the country at an early age.6 The rest of the participant children spoke Spanish to differing degrees but, for all of them, English was their preferred language. In the case of the two British spouses who took part in the research, English was their first language but one of them was fluent in Spanish. Although I shared a language (or languages) with the participants (Spanish and/or English), the dynamics of language use between myself as the researcher and the participants were more complex than this statement may imply. Indeed, I shared a first language (Spanish) with most of the adults and some of the young participants ← 190 | 191 →but there were linguistic and cultural differences which needed to be taken into account in the course of our communication. I speak Castilian Spanish with a Catalan accent and they use the varieties of Latin American Spanish of their places of origin. For those participants whose first or preferred language was English, there was the additional issue that English, for me, is a third language (I am a bilingual Catalan-Spanish speaker) in which I express myself very comfortably but in which I do not have a native accent.

In addition, the colonial and post-colonial history which connects Spain and Latin America was an important element to take into account as it could potentially affect relationships in the field. To counteract these risks, all through the research I was open about my biography7 and, if participants wished to do so, I did not shy away from discussing issues related to my personal motivations in undertaking the project or about Spain’s imperialism in Latin America and its legacy (see for example Eakin 2007; Meade 2010). Nevertheless, my positionality as ‘Spanish’ is also full of complexities and contestations; having been born in Catalonia, the history of my nation within the wider narrative of the Spanish nation-state is full of struggles for political recognition entangled with, for example, the Civil War (1936–9) and General Franco’s dictatorship (1939–75). As scholars have argued, viewing the research process in terms of insider/outsider or difference/sameness dualisms is a form of essentialism which implies that we can reduce researchers’ and participants’ identities to a set of fixed social positions, e.g. gender, class, nationality, etc. (e.g. Rose 1997; Valentine 2002). Instead, it has been emphasised that identity categories and the boundaries of the researcher-participant relationship are much more fluid and unstable and can give place to multiple senses of commonality and distance during research interactions (e.g. Mullings 1999; Valentine 2002). The dynamics that I encountered in the field did in fact illustrate this fluidity. My position as a migrant in the UK and personal experiences of visibility, misidentification and otherness provided opportunities for the participants and myself to find shared positions and commonalities (cf. Mullings 1999).

← 191 | 192 →Linguistic fluidity in the cross-cultural field

The preparation work for this project was mainly conducted in English. Most of the literature and scholarship reviewed and the academic conventions I was working in were Anglo-American. As has been pointed out, one of the consequences of English having become the lingua franca of international academia is that scholarship produced and/or published in other languages tends to be side-lined (e.g. Aalbers 2004; Garcia-Ramon 2003). To try to counteract this dynamic, however, I incorporated information resources and academic literature written in Spanish when possible. Nonetheless, the research was undertaken within the conventions of Anglo-American scholarship and its conceptual framework was originally developed in English. The use of these conventions had an impact on how the research and the findings were interpreted and presented.

I designed all the materials related to the research both in English and Spanish. This included information leaflets, research related tools and interview schedules. My aim was not only to facilitate the participation of those who could not speak English or felt more comfortable speaking in Spanish, but also to provide participants with the option of using one or the other language (or both) when undertaking the fieldwork activities (cf. Temple 2005). As scholars working on cross-linguistic research have suggested (e.g. Birbili 2000; Lopez et al. 2008), in order to secure more nuanced and appropriate Spanish versions, I checked the texts by researching the common ways of expressing certain concepts in different varieties of Spanish8 and by discussing my translations with other Spanish-English speakers, some from Spain and some from Latin America.

However, the most fruitful activity during this process was the use of a pilot to check and compare the English and Spanish versions of fieldwork tools with participants, thus operationalising their input and recognising ← 192 | 193 →their active role. Through the pilot phase, I monitored the reliability of the English and Spanish texts and my verbal explanations by observing and analysing the responses of participants to them and also by discussing directly the language and concepts used. My aim was to produce translations which were culturally appropriate and linguistically comprehensible, therefore avoiding more literal translations (cf. Birbili 2000). As I will discuss further in the next section, through this exercise, for example, I started to reflect on the linguistic nuances involved in discussing issues related to ‘belonging’ in Spanish, which became relevant for the findings of the project.

During the fieldwork, all of the adult participants, except for one British father, chose to speak in Spanish, this included a British mother who was fluent in Spanish. In the children’s case, there was a more mixed situation, four chose Spanish and the others English or a mixture of the two languages, which meant that me/ the interviewer would speak in Spanish and they would answer in English or a combination of the two. I believe that it is more pertinent to describe this phase of the research process as being mostly bilingual, with a combination of Spanish and English being used, or even language hybridity, e.g. with one language being used but with words and expressions from the other intersected or combined in the communication. I tried to illustrate this hybridity in the translated quotes when writing the findings by indicating in italics those words or the whole text that had originally been spoken in English. It is important to clarify, though, that I did not translate all the data that had been collected in Spanish into English for practical and ethical reasons. This would have been highly time consuming and would have ‘domesticated’ the research data into English too early in the analysis (Temple and Young 2004, 174, this is further elaborated in the next section). In addition, the resulting PhD thesis included the reproduction of the original Spanish texts to offer readers the opportunity to check my interpretations.9

← 193 | 194 →Overall, scholarship focusing on language and translation issues when conducting cross-cultural research tends to present the use of one language or another as a clear cut reality, i.e. interviews or focus groups were conducted in the first language of the participants, although some authors acknowledge the impact of differences within the same language (e.g. Lopez et al. 2008; Esposito 2001). However, I found that when conducting research with immigrants who had differing degrees of knowledge of English or with children who had lived most of their lives in the UK but embedded in linguistically diverse families, languages were used more flexibly and interchangeably. This flexibility was helped by the fact that participants knew that I could understand both languages. For instance, on many occasions participants were speaking in Spanish but used an English term to describe a situation or concept as they felt the English word conveyed better what they were trying to communicate or they could simply not remember the Spanish word they were looking for.

An example of this blurring of linguistic boundaries came from Susana10 (40s, Colombian, 20+ years of residence in the UK, education professional), one of the mothers in the families that participated. While speaking in Spanish about her understanding of the concept of Latin America, Susana chose to use two English words (in italics) in the following passage:

SUSANA. I don’t think you can talk about Latin America as a group, I think that is where the misunderstanding lies. We are many cultures in a landmass erm and we have things in common but others very, very, very different. (…) No, it is a very big place, because we are minorities, we are like many minorities within a single place without a common identity or common column, I think so.

[SUSANA. Es que yo creo que no se puede hablar de Latinoamérica como un grupo, y yo creo que ahí es dónde está el mal entendido. Nosotros somos varias culturas en una landmass erm y tenemos cosas en común pero tenemos cosas muy, muy, muy diferentes. (…) No, es un sitio muy grande, porque somos minorías, somos como muchas minorías en un solo sitio sin una identidad o como un column que es común, yo creo que es eso.]

← 194 | 195 →It could be argued that participants like Susana, who had a good command of English, had lived in the UK for a long period of time and had been involved in a Latin American community group for a number of years in the past, also acted as ‘cultural brokers’ in the research. Susanna, like other participants, ‘translated’ her personal experiences and understandings in the context of the project and on the basis of the knowledge she had acquired about the frames of reference in English and in her receiving society. In contrast to a great deal of scholarship that tends to present participants in a passive light in respect of how language is used during qualitative research fieldwork (e.g. Lopez et al. 2008; Esposito 2001), I argue that many participants have an active cross-linguistic and cross-cultural role in research.

Qualitative research translations ‘need to capture the meaning, context and nuances in conversational speech’ (Lopez et al. 2008, 1736); thus recognising that communication is a dynamic and context dependent process between active linguistic agents. When conducting my fieldwork, I found that participants were equally aware of the differences in our use of Spanish and often checked that a word or expression they were using had the same meaning for me. The interview transcripts were full of moments in which we engaged in linguistic diversions, contrasting how we used certain words and what expressions were used in our different societies of origin. For instance, in the group interview of one of the participant families, Jake (14, Chilean) was talking about image and fashion issues and how he felt that, after having lived in the UK, he would not ‘fit in’ with some of the styles common among his peers in Chile. In doing so, he used a Chilean urban slang expression (‘flaite’) which his mother (Louise, 30s, Chilean) quickly identified as a term possibly unfamiliar to me. In turn, the step-father (Paco, 40s, Chilean) also contributed to clarify the meaning of the word in an English context.

JAKE. I don’t want it, I don’t like to… I don’t like to look flaite.

LOUISE. That’s a Chilean expression, what does it mean?

JAKE. How can I say it?

LOUISE. Chav… it’s very chav [laughs].

INTERVIEWER. Very chav… ok.

PACO. The contrary of posh

[JAKE. Que yo no lo quiero, no me gusta, no… quiero verme flaite.

← 195 | 196 →LOUISE. Eso es un dicho chileno, ¿qué significa?

JAKE. ¿Cómo se puede decir?

LOUISE. Chav… es muy chav [ríe].

ENTREVISTADORA. Muy chav… vale.

PACO. Lo contrario de posh…]

Jake (14), Louise (30s) and Paco (40s) – Chileans, parents had university education but were working in semi-skilled jobs, short-term migration.

Differences in varieties of Spanish became more of an issue with young participants as they were used to the Spanish that their parents spoke and were generally unfamiliar with the vocabulary and accent of the Spanish I speak. However, I tried to be careful when expressing my questions, sometimes using terms which are not so ‘natural’ for me but which I know are more common in varieties of Latin American Spanish, or even double-checking the question in English. On one of these occasions, a young participant wanted to conduct his personal interviews (and complete the related diagrams) in Spanish. Although he was able to understand my questions and enjoyed the opportunity to practise the language, after a while, I had to encourage him to switch to English as he was struggling to convey complex ideas in his answers and I was concerned that he was not able to express himself freely and fully.

Languages in the analytical and writing process: recognising participants’ linguistic and cultural perspectives

I transcribed11 all the interviews verbatim in the original language or languages in which they had been spoken and I proceeded to analyse all the data collected by using both languages. Translating all the interviews into English would have been very time consuming but I also considered that, by ← 196 | 197 →working with the original languages, I could develop my analysis framework in a richer and less constrained manner, that is, by avoiding translation too early in the process of interpretation. As Temple and Young (2004, 174) have highlighted, ‘early ‘domestication’ of research into written English may mean that the ties between language and identity/culture are cut to the disadvantage of non-English speakers’. Therefore, the ‘thematic framework’ developed to analyse the data contained codes or themes both in Spanish and in English (cf. Ritchie et al. 2003); this work involved comparing themes to decide which ones made reference to the same topic or subject of interest.

An example of the ways in which the linguistic and cultural standpoints of the participants informed the findings of the research can be found in the topic of belonging. The Spanish equivalent of belonging or to belong, pertenecer, is not a concept/term used with ease in everyday parlance. This does not mean to imply that the concept does not exist or is not employed in this language, but that it is adopted more readily in academic and formal language. Interestingly, Antonisch (2010, 646) has also highlighted this semantic complexity and difficulty in the case of French and Italian, which seems to indicate that, for these languages, it sounds more natural to express sentiments of belonging in everyday speech as notions of feeling at home, being part of or from a place (see also Sidaway et al. 2004 for related translation issues). Therefore, in analysing the participants’ accounts collected in Spanish, I had to take into account the multiple ways in which participants expressed notions of attachment, membership or comfort in relation to place/s, locations and everyday situations. For instance, Martina (50s, Spanish-Colombian, born and raised in Colombia, 20+ years of residence in the UK, professional occupation) offers an example of the emphasis placed on expressions of ‘being or becoming from a place’ in Spanish to express notions of belonging.

MARTINA. And now I’m cultivating the land [on an allotment] and since I’ve been cultivating the land, I’m here one hundred per cent, because before I was always like out of synch… like with the climate, or the weather, the times, the seasons, because in Bogotá there are no seasons, so it was like if I was never completely here but now I’m here and it is simply because I’m cultivating the land. Then let’s say that little by little, little by little I’m becoming more and more from this place, and it’s not that I’m less from Colombia, no, but yes I’m more and more from this place.

← 197 | 198 →[MARTINA. Y entonces ahora estoy, estoy cultivando la tierra y desde que estoy cultivando la tierra, estoy aquí ciento por ciento porque antes siempre estaba como en desfase… como que el clima, o el tiempo, las horas, las estaciones, porque en Bogotá no hay estaciones, entonces como que nunca estaba del todo aquí pero ahora como que estoy aquí y es simplemente por lo que estoy cultivando la tierra. Entonces digamos que poquito, a poquito, a poquito, a poquito con que cada vez soy más de este sitio, y no es que cada vez sea menos de Colombia, no, pero si cada vez soy más de este sitio.]

The Spanish narratives of participants related to processes and feelings of belonging brought centre stage everyday experiences of attachment to places and expressions of growing bonds and emotions. These perspectives informed the findings of the research which highlighted the salience of individual micro-expressions of attachment in order to understand the ways in which migrants bond to their receiving societies, contributing to current understandings of the emotional geographies of belonging (Mas Giralt, 2015).


As scholars have emphasised, the linguistic decisions, interpretations and representations undertaken when conducting research in more than one language are not innocuous or free from the positionalities of the researchers or translators involved (e.g. Birbili 2000; Temple 2005). Therefore, we are ethically bound to discuss these issues explicitly in our research. However, existing literature presents research participants as somewhat passive elements in the qualitative research communication process (e.g. Lopez et al. 2008; Esposito 2001). The experience in this project points towards the need to acknowledge their active roles in constructing collaborative verbal accounts with the researcher/interpreter.

Participants are agential individuals who are also aware of linguistic and ‘cultural’ differences. Research encounters are interactive and verbal/non-verbal processes of communication. Therefore, scholars working in cross-linguistic research can benefit from engaging with the linguistic and ← 198 | 199 →cultural world of participants by actively asking them to clarify or elaborate on the meanings and connotations attached to certain expressions and words. This should be considered as well when involving interpreters. It is in linguistic collaboration with the participants that researchers/interpreters can develop better understandings of the cultural and social meanings carried by the terms and expressions used in the research encounter.

Recognising the active linguistic and communicative role of participants is an integral part of accepting the constructed nature of knowledge. With the exception of fully participative research approaches, the power to interpret and represent the data collected will ultimately lie in the hands of researchers who, for ethical reasons, are asked to do that critically and reflexively. However, by making sure that we create the positional spaces and tools to co-operate more fully with participants, we can ‘work towards a critical politics of power/knowledge production’ (Rose 1997, 318).


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   1   Variety is a term used in sociolinguistics to designate a distinct form of a language. There are two main types of varieties: user-related varieties which are used by a particular group of people and often in particular places; and use-related varieties which refer to forms of a language associated with their function, e.g. legal English (‘Variety’ in McArthur 2003, n.p.).

   2   It could be argued that cross-linguistic research also happens when scientists conduct their work in languages other than their own as is the case, for example, for many non-English native speakers in Anglo-American academia.

   3   The expression Latin America is controversial and has colonial connotations (Mignolo 2005). To counteract these connotations, I recruited participants who self-identified as Latin American and I sought to foreground their own understandings of the term.

   4   Source language refers to the ‘original’ language of a text or speech which is to be translated and target language refers to the language into which this text or speech is to be translated (e.g. Smith 2009).

   5   Community organisations have highlighted that this total figure may be an underrepresentation due to barriers for Latin American migrants in participating in the Census, including low command of English, abstention due to lack of knowledge and overcrowded living conditions which make it likely that some families did not complete the forms (Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK 2014).

   6   There was also the potential issue that I could find research participants whose first language was Portuguese or one of the diverse indigenous languages in Latin America and not Spanish. Although that was not the case for the people who took part in my project (maybe because I published all the material in Spanish and English), I had planned (to the extent possible) to try to find someone who could interpret for me if that had been the case.

   7   My use of Castilian Spanish and Catalan accent also reveal where I come from.

   8   To research common ways of expressing concepts across different varieties of Spanish I used academic resources and Spanish dictionaries (e.g. Real Academia Española 2001).

   9   Unfortunately, I have not always been able to continue with this practice in other types of publications produced from the project due to the word limits applied in most journals.

  10    All names used are pseudonyms to protect the identity of the participants.

  11    I had some external assistance with transcription although I subsequently checked and corrected each transcript.