our words make worlds

Language and Emotion: from Research to Practice


On Friday 1 March, Sally Holloway and Ingrid A. Medby organised an interdisciplinary workshop at Oxford Brookes University, generously supported by the Language Acts and Worldmaking project and by Oxford Brookes University’s School of Philosophy, History, and Culture and its Department of Social Sciences. This built on a previous seminar series ‘Emotions Across the Disciplines’ and a virtual Emotions book-club, and it drew together different strands of the organisers’ scholarly interests and projects.   

The one-day workshop brought together scholars from across disciplines to discuss both how language and language-practices feature as themes in research on emotion, and how language and language-practices influence everyday work as researchers and teachers of higher education.

The event was motivated by the recognition that despite academia’s diversity, dividing lines often run along both specialist language or jargon, as well as language abilities and communication styles. The day allowed reflection on experiences of language-practices as researchers and teachers: how is our everyday and professional life in a global and internationalising workplace influenced by (or influencing) language and language-learning?

The workshop involved keynote lectures by historian Dr Tiffany Watt Smith (Queen Mary University of London), author of The Book of Human Emotions (2015) and Schadenfreude (2018), and translator and interpreter Dr Severine Hubscher-Davidson (Open University), author of Translation and Emotion: A Psychological Perspective (2017) (please see abstracts). It also saw participation of over 20 academics from a range of institutions, subject areas, and positions – from doctoral students to senior academic staff.

Keynotes aside, participants did not present formal papers; instead the day was structured around the two above lectures and open discussion around the workshop’s themes. The flexible schedule facilitated exploratory conversations and thinking together, where participants often drew on their own personal and professional experiences.  For example, some of the issues that arose in conversation were free speech in a time of ‘fake news’, recorded lectures and self-censorship, the labelling and naming of emotions, relations between first and second-languages, and the emotional capacities of divergent modes of digital communication. The keynotes also prompted consideration of, first, (un)desirability of emotions and their subsequent subversion (such as ‘schadenfreude’); and second, the psychological processes inherent to translation-work.

The longer-term objectives of the workshop were to strengthen interdisciplinary connections and build networks, both of which it seems likely to achieve. At the closing of the day, lively conversation continued during the reception and dinner: already collaborative papers were being discussed, and ideas for future events and partnerships.