Sociotechnically, with love (by Dr Mela Sarkar)

The past calendar year, BILD’s fourth of active blogging, saw our small group of mostly Montreal-based members grow by more than 50%. The original core group of BILDers were all attached to Montreal-area universities in 2014 and were able to commit to being physically present at our biweekly meetings. Only when graduate student members one by one finished their degrees and moved away did we feel the need to create an “affiliate” category of member. Active members are, for us, still members who can come together in the flesh. For a long time the active membership increased very slowly, with the gradual arrival in Montreal of new graduate students or faculty members interested in questions of belonging, identity, language and diversity from a critical sociolinguistic perspective.

In this soon-to-end year of grace 2018, however, Caroline Dault, John Wayne dela Cruz, Angelica Galante, Sunny Lau and Jacqueline Peters all accepted invitations to start blogging as active Montreal-resident BILD members—our Happy Hour parties at McGill’s Faculty Club will soon be historic in proportion to their setting. We have also had guest posts by Davy Bigot and Helene Bramwell of Concordia University in Montreal, Jessica Irvine of the University of Regina, Roseline Paquet of l’Université de Montréal, McGill doctoral student Afrouz Tavakoli, and educational consultant Eowyn Crisfield of London and The Hague.

We have, as always, a growing number of non-resident affiliate members who used to be resident in Montreal but have now moved on, though continuing to blog when they can, like Melissa Enns who wrote recently about what can happen to a person’s language when they move from Saskatchewan to Montreal and back. We also have a never-resident member, erstwhile guest blogger Jennifer Burton of the University of Toronto, who came to visit us in November and stayed on, virtually speaking. Consummate blogger and online author Matthew Apple of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan wandered by while on sabbatical in Montreal and has also been welcomed into the ranks of permanent BILD guest members.

See previous post by Matt Apple, who contributed this networking image—thanks Matt!

Furthermore, 2018 saw the online publication of Volume 2(2) of J-BILD, the journal BILD launched in late 2017. With the addition of two more issues to our inaugural volume, and an international community of authors, we can safely say that the journal is well launched. J-BILD editors and longtime BILD members Alison Crump and Lauren Halcomb-Smith are the guiding spirits watching over the growth of a relatively new approach to scholarly publishing[1], one that eschews anonymized peer review as well as the able-ist discourse of “blinding”—and that looks like it is catching on in other quarters. While I miss Alison and Lauren’s blog posts and presence at regular BILD meetings, as a member of the editorial team I am in the fortunate position of being able to appreciate their persistence, courage and hard work at close quarters and to silently applaud the very substantial impact I see their work having on the nature of scholarship itself, through “two aspects of J-BILD—the online platform and the collaborative peer mentoring model—that align with our vision of open scholarship” (Crump & Halcomb-Smith, 2018).

And not least, in 2018 two new pieces of writing helped to further define and refine the ongoing BILD enterprise, one for public consumption, one not. The latter was our first formal grant application to one of the local government funding bodies for infrastructure funding as a collectivity (research group, research community, call us what you will). Producing this long-winded document, invisible to all but the half dozen of us who laboured to give it birth by the early-October deadline, helped us understand who we are and what we are trying to become. As many professionals in academia can testify, the process brought us together in a peculiarly bonding, circus-performer sort of way. When we’d clicked SUBMIT, our much-put-upon and incredibly helpful research grants officer wrote: “Well done on pulling this together, juggling all the pieces, and dealing with last-minute surprises with aplomb and good cheer.” With that kind of excellent institutional support, getting the money next spring would be the cherry on the sundae. But it would be tasty!

Perhaps the most heartwarming and certainly, at this time of this writing, the most recent evidence that BILD is beginning to have an impact is Ron Darvin’s December 2018 review of the BILD blog in the Journal of Sociolinguistics (Darvin, 2018). I didn’t myself know that blogs could be reviewed in the book review section of academic journals—the times they are indeed a-changin’. Ron wrote a guest post for us back in December 2015; he is therefore not quite arm’s-length, but a distance of three years is, I think, sufficient to confer a certain perspective. In his review he goes to the heart of what it is we are trying to create with the BILD blog: “a polyvocal conversation that is current, connective, collaborative, and dynamic.” I am very pleased that Ron mentions our ongoing efforts to “[carve] out a translanguaging space for scholars,” because I think it’s among the more important things we are trying to do. However, I must admit that the phrase in this review that I find the most meaningful, and the most representative of what BILD has meant to me as a founding member and faculty representative since BILD’s inception in 2014, is Ron’s comment about our goal of “destabilizing the power relations of professor-graduate student by enabling bidirectional flows of information.” That’s exactly why having conversational spaces like BILD is so important. Spaces like these are rare, and must be carefully nurtured and protected.

Ron’s review also taught me the word sociotechnical. At surface level it describes the social-cum-technical features of our blog, or of any online forum (navigation bar, sidebar, search fields, tag cloud). But (and for this I had to go to Wikipedia), it also refers to “the interrelatedness of social and technical aspects of an organization or the society as a whole.”  Going back to a 1951 paper on coal miners in the UK (!), sociotechnical theory proposes that, properly structured and conducted, “the relationships between socio- and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing” (Trist & Bamforth, 1951). Coal mining aside, because our mining is of a different sort, and metaphorical, it sounds a lot like BILD to me.

In short (because the year is running out!): BILD is building solidly on its face-to-face foundations and is growing and changing. The BILD community is no less one for being peripatetic and far-flung, with lines of communication that now tend to hum through the internet ether rather than necessarily running along lines of sight. Online communities are of course increasingly the norm. But BILD may be a little unusual in that we continue to privilege in-person participation as well, and the constant give-and-take of friendly/collegial interaction among scholars who try to actually (and non-virtually) see each other as often as possible. To an extent that I find surprising and moving, we are not just friendly with each other—we are friends, and we share many aspects of our lives beyond the purely academic. Sociotechnically and interpersonally. As this eventful year winds down, we raise our virtual glasses high in a sociotechnical New Year’s toast, and wish all of you, our readers, the very best for 2019.

Sociopyrotechnically, with best New Year’s wishes!


Crump, A., & L. Halcomb-Smith. (2018). Editorial 2(1): Opening scholarship and rethinking peer review. Journal of Belonging, Identity, Language & Diversity (n.p.).

Darvin, R. (2018). Book review: Blog: Belonging, Identity, Language & Diversity (BILD) / Langage, Identité, Diversité, Appartenance (LIDA).

Trist, E., & Bamforth, K. (1951). Some social and psychological consequences of the longwall method of coal getting. Human Relations, 4, 3-38.

[1] As Crump & Halcomb-Smith (2017) point out, our approach is “inspired by the Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education (CJNSE), which has been operating as a mentoring journal for over a decade.

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