Politics and Civil Society Research Cluster Becomes a Member of the European Language Equality Network (ELEN): Interview with Sergiusz Bober & Craig Willis

Craig Willis and Sergiusz Bober during the Conference on Contemporary Challenges for Minority Language Media

The Politics & Civil Society Research Cluster has officially become a member of the The European Language Equality Network (ELEN). ELEN has as its goal, "to the exclusion of any profit seeking, the promotion, protection and well-being of European lesser-used (i.e. regional, minority, endangered, indigenous, co-official and smaller national) languages, (RMLs), to work towards linguistic equality for these languages, and multilingualism, under the broader framework of human rights, and to be a voice for the speakers of these languages at the local, regional, national, European and international level".

Sergiusz Bober (SB) and Craig Willis (CW) talk about the importance of this step for the ECMI and their Cluster's research.


What are the Cluster’s general plans when it comes to minority language media (MLM) research?

SB: Perhaps the most important thing to say is that the Cluster intends to keep the focus on MLM as its thematic priority in years to come. This is very much rooted in our perception of language as one of the core aspects of everyday life in various minority communities, with media playing a crucial role in providing content in minority languages, creating spaces where such languages can be used, inspiring internal debates, or even offering materials for educational contexts. 

In terms of the specific research angles, there are several aspects we plan to cover in the near future. A prominent example will be the continuation of our research on the digitalization of minority language newspapers — a complex phenomenon not only in the technological sense, with our intention to look closer at its community-related dimension. Another topic linked to the dramatically changing technological landscape concerns the social media sphere. How do the established media players use this, for example, to identify synergies with broadcasting? How much does this open the media field to bottom-up journalistic initiatives? And ultimately, how does this affect minority languages in terms of their maintenance, visibility, and prestige? Perhaps the final thing to be mentioned in the context of our short-term research plans concerns journalists working in minority languages. While correlated with the dynamics mentioned above, it also involves issues such as broader working conditions, language-related aspects of their day-to-day work, and professional identities involving the balance between strictly journalistic work and work for a given minority language. Naturally, the findings from all these research endeavours will be presented during various scientific workshops and conferences, sometimes also organized or co-organized by our Cluster.         


How will being part of ELEN help the Cluster in its research on minority language media?

CW: Joining ELEN opens a vast array of possibilities for networking, both with academics and with practitioners/activists. Thus, from a research agenda point of view, there is the potential for collaborative scholarship and a greater possibility to learn about perhaps lesser-known existing publications. Then from the practitioner/activist side, ELEN offers us the opportunity to identify engaged stakeholders for interviews and generally increase our empirical knowledge across a wide array of linguistic spheres. 

SB: As Craig said, the ELEN’s very nature certainly creates a favourable environment for ambitious research plans involving comparative approaches. Perhaps another aspect also worth highlighting concerns the ELEN’s position in relation to the European Union or the Council of Europe, for example, in the context of the monitoring processes concerning the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities or the Language Charter. In that sense, it creates a possibility for observing how the network, as well as its individual members, are involved in the international dynamics focusing on the improvement of the situation of minority languages. 


When and why did the Politics & Civil Society Cluster decide to join ELEN?

CW: Although we have known of the existence of ELEN for quite some time, the organisation became more present on our radar following the appointment of their new President, Prof. Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, who is a close colleague of the two of us and long-term collaborator of the ECMI more broadly. Thus, I attended ELEN’s 2022 general assembly in Cardiff as an observer and our application developed from there, with the process enjoying full support of the ECMI’s management throughout. 


What will the ECMI’s role be in the network?

CW: We will be a member organisation within its total of 174 member organisations, but of course, the exact role and agenda vary somewhat depending on the type of organisations. As one of the academic-focused members, our interest is primarily of a research nature. However, we strongly feel that it is important for researchers to engage with the communities that are the focus of such research. Furthermore, given our pan-European focus, we hope to bring our existing network knowledge to the institution and continue to identify areas of commonality and then disseminate this to connect actors around mutual goals. 


Are there any activities planned? Will we see ELEN members in Kompagnietor?

CW: We would indeed like to invite ELEN members to visit us in Flensburg in the not-too-distant future. Whilst the ELEN President, Prof. Jones, was here in March 2022 as a keynote speaker at our conference ‘Multi-platform and Connecting Communities: Contemporary Challenges for Minority Language Media’, we would very much like to also show our Cluster and the ECMI more broadly to ELEN Secretary-General Dr. Davyth Hicks or other interested members. Of course, we are also very keen to host ELEN events in the future.

SB: Regarding the fixed items on our agenda, we will be attending ELENs 2023 general assembly, which is set to be held in Sardinia this coming October. We will have the opportunity to be formally introduced as a member organisation and thus showcase our existing research foci to the present delegates. This event should provide an ideal context for initiating the discussions concerning our future role and making the initial steps in relation to the plans just mentioned by Craig.  

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