7. Language and "crises"

Convenor: Taina Saarinen, FIER, University of Jyväskylä; Petteri Laihonen, CALS, University of Jyväskylä

Contact: taina.m.saarinen (at) jyu.fi

Session 7.1: Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00

Session 7.2: Friday 3.12.2021 at 12.30-14.30

Crisis is presented equally as change and as outcome of change; as contradiction or conflict; and as argument justifying speedy political solutions. Crises tend to be subjectively perceived; they are brought into existence in discourses (Hier & Greenberg 2002), and often imply uncertainties about the future (Stråth & Wodak 2009). In recent years we have witnessed coinages such as Brexit crisis, refugee crisis, economic crisis, environmental crisis, corona crisis etc.; none of these are ideologically innocent.

This workshop discusses the construction of "crisis" from the perspective of language; both crises as construed in and by language in discourses of crises, and language being construed as the source of crises. What events and phenomena end up being construed as crisis and how? If we construe something as “crisis”, what is the implied “normal”? How are different languages being construed as participating in crises? While we are interested in the dynamics of the role of languages as factors in “crises”, it is equally important to analyse, how and why some political, social and cultural phenomena are designated as (language) "crises", and what the consequences of such constructions are. What do different local, national and international actors (researchers, politicians, media, general public etc.) do when they construe a political event or phenomenon "an exceptional circumstance", "problem" or "crisis"? What do they then assume as "permanent" or "(new) normal"? Has the term crisis been (ab/mis)used for justifying certain language ideologies and policies? Is a language (policy) action justified as solving or preventing a “crisis”? When do we “enter” or exit a “crisis”? We particularly invite submissions on, but by no means exclusively, the constructions of the COVID-19 crisis and the role of language in that.

We invite the participants to engage in conceptualizing “crisis” and its (non-)connections to language, and its (in-)significance for language phenomena and research; thus, we have no preset definition of “crisis”. We invite submissions that discuss the discursive, historical, and societal interplay of language and crises. Intersectional and interdisciplinary perspectives perspectives to language policy are welcomed!

language: English, Finnish, Swedish (for other languages contact the chairs).

Back to the workshops

Presentation order and abstracts:

SESSION 7.1 Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00:

  1. Migration, Crisis, and the Police Order
    Ville Laakkonen: Tampere University

This paper examines critically two interlocked mobilisations of the word ‘crisis’ in the context of Greece: the economic crash of 2010 and the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015. The economic crash not only devastated normal life in ways comparable to the 1930s Great Depression in the US, but brought about unprecedented austerity politics driven by the ‘European Troika’ (European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund). For its part, the dramatic increase in Europe-bound refugees and migrants crossing the border from Turkey was quickly also framed as ‘crisis’ across Europe and set in motion equally unprecedented militarisation in Greek, and European, migration politics. Words such as ‘solidarity’ and ‘fairness’ became hollow bureaucratised utterances. As borders between nation-states hardened, the borders to genuine politics (of justice, equality, and democracy) rose ever higher.

How have these two ‘crises’ been used and reflected upon? I start by tracing the origins of the word ‘crisis’ in its Greek roots (κρίση [krísi]) and in its meaning as a moment of judgment and then demonstrate in the present moment how one ‘crisis’ became infused with the other. By making use of Jacques Rancière’s notions of ‘police’ and ‘politics’, I argue that ‘crisis’ establishes a particular order of policing that defines the frame of discussion and observation available and distorts the way both of these processes of ‘crisis’ and their repercussions are often analysed. It follows that by recentering the voices silenced in the process and dismantling the operations of ‘policing’, equally in tangible power-relations and as in language, we can come to a radical retelling of how the two intertwined ‘crises’ unfolded and be able to lay bare the violence, racism, and extractive capitalism concealed by the dominant narrative. In doing so, I hope, we can work towards reclaiming debates on ‘solidarity’ and ‘fairness’ and, thus, making, for example, the right to life a cause for action, not debate.

  1. Working with crisis all the while? Needs to redefine the vocabulary in police work through collaboration with minority communities
    Sari Vanhanen: Migration Institute of Finland

Questions of safety and security have multiple dimensions in police work varying from personal to community or society level. Furthermore, police may face an acute “crisis” in families, between (or inside) the groups of people or even in the whole society. “Crisis” or conflicts are intertwined with the legitimate role of police work to promote safety and to prevent further threats.

In my post-doc study, I look at the challenges in redefining professional boundaries and responsibilities in police work within a culturally diverse society. The study discusses the possibilities for collaborative learning and knowledge, especially between actors in the public and third sector at the local level. The research is based on the concept of preventive police work, in which proactive multi-agency collaboration is key. Building up professional expertise is not only an individual but also a social process. The study approaches professional expertise by looking at the forms of agency, professional socialization and learning at work. It means observing the professional norms and institutional features or practices that remain “silent” or “invisible”.

The study brings forward the question of vocabulary, i.e. which words and expressions to use when the aim of the collaboration is to strengthen people’s experience of inclusion and everyday security. The police, as well as other professionals, need to be aware of how categorization or labeling of certain groups of the population may take place e.g. through discourse on securitization.

However, collaboration emerges as an opportunity for developing the work practices and professional vocabulary that aim at dismantling practices of “Othering”. This requires an ability to engage in active dialogue with minority groups in promoting everyday security, equality and inclusion in Finnish society. Yet it is important to note that essential skills, such as engaging in dialogue, require training and learning.

  1. The ‘crisis’ performance of the Yellow Vests
    Gwenaëlle Bauvois: University of Helsinki

The Yellow Vests - Gilets jaunes - is a protest movement started in France in November 2018 that spread all over the world: Serbia, Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Taiwan... Despite having different roots and claims, these various Yellow Vests movements articulate their mobilisation around a perceived large-scale societal crisis built on a strong feeling of disenfranchisement experienced by the ‘People’. This feeling of disenfranchisement is related to economic and social injustice, corruption, inequalities, taxes and big corporations. Yellow Vests Facebook groups all over the world quickly became a space where this crisis narrative could be spread and sometimes become entangled with far right ideas, conspiracy theories, anti-media and anti-elite positioning.

I will build theoretically on Moffitt’s idea that “crises are never ‘neutral’ phenomena” but that actors play a role in the ‘spectacularization of failure’ (Moffit, 2014). Indeed, the Yellow Vests present a very bleak vision of society and spectacularize the failure of the nation. In this paper, I will critically engage with conceptualizations of the crisis narration and performance by the Yellow Vests. I will also discuss how the Yellow vests narrate and perform the crisis at the same time transnationally and locally by domesticating it from one country to another.

SESSION 7.2 Friday 3.12.2021 at 12.30-14.30

  1. COVID-19 translation policies in the Helsinki metropolitan area
    Simo Määttä, Tuija Kinnunen and Päivi Kuusi: University of Helsinki

In Finland, approx. 25% of positive COVID-19 cases have been registered among speakers of non-official languages of the country. This fact has been widely reported in the media during the entire duration of the COVID-19 epidemic. Important translation efforts have been made by the hospital districts, municipal authorities, and government agencies in order to make COVID-19 related information available in the most important migrant languages, such as Russian, Estonian, Somali, and Arabic. In larger cities, city officials have met with representatives of migrant communities in order to spread knowledge about COVID-19 transmission and prevention. However, the study conducted by Finell et al. (2021) indicates that many migrants perceive the lack of information in their languages and through the information channels that they are accustomed to use as a problem. In this talk, we assess the production of multilingual information during the COVID-19 pandemic through the prism of translation policy (González Núñez & Meylaerts 2017) and the theory and practice of linguistic rights. Our focus is on the online information provided by the largest cities of the greater Helsinki area (population 1.4 million), namely Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa. First, we provide an overview of the production of multilingual information related to COVID-19 in these cities. Second, we analyze the way in which the cities provided online information about COVID-19 in multiple languages in a sample collected in March 2021, and assess the accessibility of this information. Third, we compare the results of our analysis to the analysis of interviews with officials in one of these cities, namely Espoo. To conclude, we discuss the implications of our findings in relation to the best practices of multilingual information in healthcare and other emergencies.

  1. A critical look into construction of “crisis” as a language policy tool
    Petteri Laihonen and Taina Saarinen: University of Jyväskylä

Language policy issues usually become visible when (nation) states are searching for their identity and justification for their existence in political, economic or cultural transition periods. In general, these situations may involve varying levels of national or international periods of turmoil (war, armed or ideological conflict, economic recession etc.). Historical examples of this are, for example, Finland's new constitution and the accompanying bilingualism legislation in 1919; more recent examples can be found in post-Soviet Baltic states and Ukraine.

This presentation discusses the construction of "crisis" in language (policy) contexts; i.e. in contexts, where language or language policy is fronted as a phenomenon that is undergoing a process of change, conflict, turmoil, or crisis. Developments in global migration and the rise of political and ideological nationalism often link these rapid changes and conflicts with language for instance by introducing language requirements in citizenship laws; discussing language of instruction; debating the right of migrants to their own language; or discussing the pressures put on local languages by Global English.

We combine discursive, historical, and political approaches in our analysis of debates on language policy as a fluid, multi-sited phenomenon, where small and apparently mundane details may indicate macro-level changes (e.g. changes in ideologies and policies) (see for instance Halonen et al 2015; Hult 2015). In this presentation, we present two recent cases where languages and language policies are discussed in terms of crisis.

Our first case is the proposed increase in need of crisis communication policy during the global COVID-19 pandemic. We will point to the challenges in the treatment of linguistic minorities during the pandemic and ruptures in dominant language policies for global communication.

Our second case discusses the case of the Finnish Language Board’s statement on the position of Finnish. The statement proposes that Finnish language is endangered by external threats, mainly the increasing use of English.

While we analyse the dynamics of crises (operationalized as conflict, turmoil, rapic change) in language policy, it is equally important to problematize, how and why some political, social and cultural phenomena are designated as (language policy) "crises", and what the consequences of such constructions are. What do different local, national and international actors (researchers, politicians, media, general public etc.) do when they construe a political event or phenomenon "an exceptional circumstance", "problem" or "crisis"?