Speaking Citizens: The Politics of Speech Education 1850–Present

I would like to inform language@leeds members about a new AHRC-funded research project entitled Speaking Citizens: The Politics of Speech Education 1850–Present.

We are a group of historians, linguists and social scientists exploring ideas about speech and citizenship in modern Britain. Our aim is find out more about attitudes to speaking in Britain from the Victorian period to the present. Working with primary and secondary teachers, the English Speaking Union, Oracy Cambridge, Voice 21 and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy, our aim is to provide new evidence for how citizenship can be taught through a focus on talk and dialogue.

The strand of the project that I’m leading at Leeds explores the communicative challenges faced by contemporary young people in four specific contexts:

* Going through the justice system

* Engaging in workplace activities as trade unionists

* Preparing to leave the care system

* Making a mark as a graffiti artist

Each of these groups face daily challenges to express themselves confidently; interpret the meanings of messages from diverse sources; engage with unfamiliar modes of speech; and translate between private feelings and public language. Through a primarily ethnographic lens, my research team (PDRAs Anna Liddle and Dan Evans) and I will be observing communication in real-time, regarding it as a social practice that is both learned and improvised.

I expect there to be three significant outcomes from this research (although the nature of all good research is that it often generates quite unexpected outcomes). The first will be a record of communication in practice. The form that this record takes will be innovative insofar as we shall aim not merely to reflect upon communicative practices but to capture them as a lyrical account of lived experience. Secondly, we shall work with research participants to compile resources and strategies that might be used by other people seeking to develop their confidence as citizens. Thirdly, we shall reflect critically and imaginatively upon what it means to be a democratic citizen at this moment in history. This is not about developing a definitive account of citizenship but opening ourselves up to pluralistic range of civic norms and a diverse variety of communicative practices.

Input/suggestions from members of language@leeds would be most welcome.

Professor Stephen Coleman, School of Media & Communication