It began in the fall of 2013. Patricia Lamarre of the Université de Montréal, my McGill departmental colleague Bronwen Low, and I finally managed to get together one beautiful autumn afternoon at the Dieu du Ciel! microbrewery on Laurier (the beer is extraordinary) and we tossed around ideas for spreading the word about critical sociolinguistics research, specifically as it might be relevant to education, while thinking out loud about how important, difficult and fundamental it is to mentor junior scholars. They are the future. But they have to feel very supported in their explorations into different ways of doing “being scholars.” Unsupported, they are not free to explore; making a living in academia is precarious enough as it is.
Explore, from the Latin ex + plorare, “cry out”; the “Aha!” experience as a mode of being. The Aha! of the solitary scholar is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the Aha! uttered in congenial company that will take it up and amplify, announce, accept, the note of wonder at having discovered a new way to look at something we thought we understood. That first conversation led to others; invitations to discussion groups, brown bag lunches, a slow but determined movement toward setting up something that would sustain new scholarship around languages and “languaging.”
A couple of months later, after a few false starts, we had a small but committed group, in the end all of them but myself graduate students in DISE (McGill’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education), and a name, BILD (belonging, identity, language, and diversity). This is Canada; when BILD meets we speak English, but many of us are comfortable in French and of course we had to have a French acronym as well, LIDA (langage, identité, diversité, appartenance). At one of our first meetings, in December 2013, exactly three years ago, we started to come up with a vision for the group that included the words “support, enrich, empower, share.”
Jim Cummins, a long-time mentor of mine, has said of classrooms, “Empowerment, understood as the collaborative creation of power…develops the linguistic and intellectual tools necessary for collaborative critical inquiry” (2000, p. 246). With bells on…and it goes far beyond the classroom! Those of us who were able to make a commitment to coming to our biweekly meetings quickly discovered the value of setting aside this hour just to talk face to face about the aspects of academia we felt most strongly about. We threw, and throw, provocative articles at each other constantly so we can argue about them. Together our members find far more to challenge my ideas than I could ever find on my own (when did academic life become so circumscribed that we hardly ever have time to read anything really new and original?).
But this is the social media generation. Face to face is now only one of several ways of exchanging-through-talking. I had no idea how powerful social media could be. In 2014 we set up a private Facebook group (I’m pretty sure we all keep on top of it almost daily). We also took explicit steps to “become” a group (such as defining terms of membership and taking on specific roles to ensure the smooth functioning of all our initiatives). I don’t think I was aware of the acronym “PLC” (Professional Learning Community) at the time, but in retrospect, a bottom-up, organic and uncontrived PLC is what was emerging. For me, “community” is the key word.
A public BILD/LIDA Facebook page followed in due course. And our BILD/LIDA blog, active just over two years now, is probably our best-known collective undertaking. People write from all over the world in response to our posts, a phenomenon that never ceases to astonish me. The BILD members are also bloggers who are writers worth paying attention to. So are our guest bloggers! This has got to be one of the most powerful ways yet invented of sharing new ideas in academia, as well as one of the most democratic.
From the biweekly meetings that led to the blog, we have moved into more conventional academic venues as well. In March 2015 we held a mini-symposium on innovative methodologies in critical sociolinguistics research. Josep Cru of Newcastle University, a friend of BILD and sometime guest blogger, was in town at the time, which gave us a wonderful excuse to get organized. The event drew people from the other Montreal-area universities (Concordia, Sherbrooke) and has led to another productive direction for BILD as a group; five of us have been invited to talk about new methodologies next June at the 2017 annual conference of ACLA/CAAL, l’Association canadienne de linguistique appliquée/the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics.
Between 2015 and 2017, we also presented collectively at the “For and against models of official multiculturalism and multilingualism” conference organized at McGill’s Département de langue et littérature françaises in May 2016. What made an impact, we felt, was not just what we said. It was also how we said it. To a number of conference attendees, it was clearly a revelation that scholars could work so productively in an avowedly collective and non-hierarchical way. We’re on to something, we thought. This led to a paper collectively authored by four of us, to appear soon, we hope. We have another collective abstract under review for next spring’s ACFAS (Association francophone pour le savoir) conference, under the auspices of QUESCREN (the Quebec English-Speaking Communities Research Network); may they smile upon us! I relish the thought that we may be speaking in French with a healthy admixture of English, at a Francophone conference to be held at McGill, Quebec’s last, resolute bastion of Anglo[ec]centricity, about doing critical sociolinguistics research in Montreal’s English-speaking community, but a far more diverse community, ethnolinguistically, than the designers of the Montreal flag could ever have imagined.
As I see it, the omnipresent public discourse around French and English in Quebec and Canada, in which only two key players are allowed, is a paper tiger chasing its own tail on the surface of something much deeper, where a tsunami of real change is building up. Eve Haque analyzes this beautifully.
Our next venture will be a speaker series, to be launched in January 2017. Kahtehrón:ni, a Kanien’kehá:ka scholar from Kahnawà:ke (Mohawk Territory) will start us off by reminding us how ephemeral and local the French-English tail-chasing is. Speaking and language here in this space we now call Montreal have roots that go down very, very deep.
We may be young. But we’re part of that tsunami. We’re the real thing.
Watch this space! It’s looking a lot like we may just have to launch our own journal…
Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, Avon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Haque, E. (2012). Multiculturalism within a bilingual framework. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.