On Multilingual Research Spaces and Digital Dissemination (by Casey Burkholder)

I have been all over the place lately. I have been just about everywhere but home in Montreal. From January – June of this year, I was living and working in Hong Kong while I completed the fieldwork for my doctoral project, Looking Back and Looking Around: Cellphilming and Revisiting with Ethnic Minority Youth in Hong Kong. The project has taken up a lot of my thinking, and has inspired a few of my previous BILD posts. It continues to inspire my thinking as I move from being in the field with my research participants, to working with them across digital spaces.

Image 1: Still from Katrina’s cellphilm on identity

In brief, I am co-creating with a group of ethnic minority young people (between the ages of 18 and 22) in Hong Kong for my doctoral project. Ten of these participants attended the same secondary school (it is the school where I used to work), and one participant joined the project because her friend was a part of the research. This participant was interested in talking about the ways that school shifted the way that she experiences her adult life in Hong Kong. Through semi-structured interviews and cellphone-video making (cellphilming, see: Dockney, Tomasseli & Hart, 2010; Burkholder & MacEntee, forthcoming), we are grappling with a couple of central questions: How has school affected the way I see myself (my identity) in Hong Kong? Where do I feel that I belong in Hong Kong? And, how do I participate as a citizen? What is my sense of civic engagement (particularly in the wake of the still ongoing Occupy Central movement). The project looks back at the participants’ schooling histories to get at how school shaped their adult experiences of belonging, identity, and civic engagement.

As the research takes place in Hong Kong—where a majority of people speak Cantonese—and students who attend public school (at least in theory) have the option of learning in Chinese or English as the Medium of Instruction, language has been at the forefront of these conversations. Which languages are afforded privileges in which spaces? Which languages are othered and where?

Image 2: Still from Avtar’s cellphilm

All of the participants in the project are multilingual, some speaking two, three, and four languages fluently. Two participants speak Tagalog as a first language, three speak Punjabi as a first language, two speak Nepalese as a first language, and four speak Urdu as a first language. I have continued to think about the way that English is the dominant language in my research project, and the way that this might other the participants’ multilingual strengths. For example, in our cellphilm making workshops, the participants often spoke to one another in languages other than English, but created final products (for the project) that were in English. What might my reliance on English mean for the findings of the work? This is a question that I continue to reflect upon as I begin to engage in analysis, and as yet, have not come up with much to satisfy my own critique of this element of the project.

Image 3: Still from Shuja’s cellphilm

Since leaving Hong Kong in June, I’ve traveled a bit and moved again, onto Prince Edward Island to teach for six weeks. Although I’ve physically left ‘the field’, my research is continuing in digital spaces through the participatory dissemination of our cellphilms. As a project that is steeped in participatory visual methodology (cellphilming, in my case), I’m interested in bringing this notion of participation to all elements of the project, from my public visual field notes (http://caseyandthefield.wordpress.com), to the creation of a common archive (through a shared YouTube account called We are HK too), and now, as we share the cellphilms across digital spaces. I am interested in how these works are disseminated by participants, and by myself across linguistic, cultural, and physical spaces. We have created a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, and have shared the archive publically (for now). One thing about the creation of a participatory archive is that its ownership is shared by the group, rather than just by the researcher. In this, participants can remove their cellphilms at any time without penalty, and the archive itself can change without the overarching editorial guidance of the researcher. As time passes, the archive may change as participants choose to add or withdraw content. Then, these digital spaces, and this shared archive, also become a site of research.

Image 4: Still from Sabi & Yuna’s cellphilm

For now, I continue to think about the role of English in my research, while simultaneously thinking about belonging, identity, language, and diversity in this participatory digital archive.

Check out the cellphilms and the digital archive here:


One thought on “On Multilingual Research Spaces and Digital Dissemination (by Casey Burkholder)

  1. Reblogged this on Field Notes: Casey Returns to Hong Kong and commented:
    Dear readers,

    I have been away from the field for a month and a half. It is strange to be reintegrating into my Canadian life (even though I am still not at home), while still thinking about Hong Kong. I wrote about language and space and disseminating the cellphilms on YouTube and elsewhere in a blog post (here).

    I’ll be back with drawings soon.

    A promise.

    -from a picnic bench in Charlottetown


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