Chantal Gratton

Thought-pieces and News

The importance balance between theory and method


Over the past four weeks I attend the first session of the 2017 ICPSR summer school on quantitative methods for social researchers. This summer school brings together some of the best quantitative methods instructors in the US, with skills ranging from multilevel modelling to game theory, and aims to instruct various social researcher in appropriate methods. Apart from coming away from the courses with a deeper understanding of analytical methods, I have also learned the importance of balance between theory and methodology.

While, as researchers, we may simply become enamoured with the prospect of 'learning all the methods' we should be aware of the fact that methods, no matter how flashy, are meant to support a theory. This is an especially important point to be conscious of when adopting new methods that you may not be entirely familiar with, since many statistically programs will mask problems with the implementation of the chosen method. When employing software to run analyses we use either commands or point-and-click methods. The software will blindly accept the input and attempt to run the chosen method. Some programs may give you warning message or even fail to run if the method has been employed improperly. However, often it will generate some sort of result without any sign that something if being wrongly implemented, outputting either an inflated or deflated result. This leads to researchers unknowingly reporting incorrect results for their data, either because they fit the model incorrectly or because they choose the wrong method to answer their research question.

The first reason can be dealt with by simply understanding the mechanics of the method you are seeking to employ and knowing what factors may lead to unreliable results. It is the second reason that requires researchers to step back and question their purpose. Just because a particular method may be gaining steam in your field or a similar field does not mean that it is appropriate for your particular research question. Even a given researcher examining the dataset may employ various types of methods and models depending on the particular question they are wanting to ask.

This is important information for social researchers to be aware of. Because it's not always obvious that a model — if it has converged and given you a p-value — might be unreliable.

LSA 2017 Annual Meeting


It was a great pleasure to participate in the Style and Identity session on Saturday at the LSA Annual meeting. The session brought together wonderful researchers interested in style, both the fabulous presenters and the engaged attendees. Each paper focused on the various ways in which identity and style interact with linguistic features, many of which also highlighted the importance of considering other social and interactional factors. The engaging discussions that took place during the question periods emphasize the importance of such research.

I was very happy to to present alongside researchers whose work I greatly admire and to have the opportunity to participate in the conversations they are having with the academe. I am encouraged, as a young researcher, to continue probing the interactional factors — such as space, interlocutor, and stance-work — that influence linguistic variation in the creation of identity and style.

LSA 2017 Student Abstract Award


I would like to thank the LSA for awarding me third place for the 2017 Student Abstract Award. I appreciate those who took the time to read the multitude of student abstracts and deliberated over the numerous outstanding applications. This award encourages students to present at the LSA Annual Meeting and assists us with the costs associated with attending.

Also, a wholehearted congratulations to the other winners: Emily Moline and Jon Ander Mendia. I look forward to attending your talks in January.

Trans*Studies Conference: Language as an important commodity within trans studies


Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural conference of Trans*Studies: An International Transdisciplinary Conference on Gender, Embodiment, and Sexuality, at the University of Arizona. I was thrilled to be invited to present on a linguistics panel (Language, Power and Materiality in Trans Communities, organized by Lal Zimman and Jenny Davis) that sought to showcase the many benefits of employing linguistic analyses in the study of transgender identities. This provided an interesting opportunity to carry linguistic knowledge into a different social domain and present it as valuable for other academic fields.

As a sociolinguist, it was interesting to observe how little the use of language, and even of other semiotic resources, featured in the current trends of the field. Though the field of trans studies does bridge many diverse disciplines — many of which were not preoccupied with human behaviour — it was none the less surprising to find a lack of studies relating to how individuals do gender. Just as within the broader field of gender studies, here too the notion that gender is somehow performative is widely accepted. However, the exploration of how people do such performative iterations is not a focus for much of the field. Despite this rarity, the research presented by our panel was of great interest to attendees, pointing to the possibility that this scarcity relates more to a lack of inter-disciplinarity than to the inessentiality of such research.

Sociolinguistics, as a field, has a tendency to view interdisciplinary efforts as a means of bringing social theories and methodologies into the field of linguistics. In this sense, we remain at least somewhat au courant with the latest trends in various fields. However, it is not all together common for linguists to cross the arbitrarily constructed discipline boundaries as the propagators of academic knowledge. This experience, then, has reinforced that such crossings can truly facilitate the construction of interdisciplinary bridges and may serve to place the field of linguistics at the forefront of the study of human behaviour. It appears that the field of linguistics occupies an important research space capable of examining exactly how individuals are able to do gender, rendering it quite valuable to researchers in other disciplines.

IGALA 9: The 'Trans' in "Time and Transition"


I was fortunate enough to attend IGALA 9: Time and Transition last week in Hong Kong, and to meet a wonderful community of language and gender researchers. My attendance was made possible due to the Anne Simone Graduate Student International Conference Award, for which I am truly grateful.

IGALA 9 featured a wide array of excellent papers and keynote speakers, and provided a superb selection of research on transgender linguistics. The important of language for trans identities was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference, beginning with the very first plenary lecture by Dr. Sally McConnell-Ginet and continuing through to the very last day. Truly, researchers interested in questions of transgender idnetity could not have found a better venue at which to showcase their work!

The rapidly increasing volume of research focusing on trans identities is a welcome addition to the field, which has often focused on cisgender identities. The growing diversity of research — not simply exemplified by work on trans identities, but also on the intersection of race, ethnicity, religion, age, place, etc. within the language and gender field — has been and will continue to be a boon to the field of sociolinguistics.

Singular they: A victory for them, or for us?


The announcement that singular they had been chosen as the 2015 Word of the Year came as a pleasant surprise to many researchers interested in language and gender, as it seemed to mark progress for gender diversity and non-conformity. At the very least, it signalled greater social awareness of gender identities that do not fall neatly on either side of the gender binary. However, when I sought the reactions of non-binary consultants in the community I study (many of whom use singular they), I was shocked to find a general lack of enthusiasm.

Some of the individuals I asked were indifferent to the announcement, and others hadn't even heard about it. I had expected to find at least some excited individuals amongst the group, but instead I mainly found criticism. Apart from the apathetic few, the group viewed the announcement as a media stunt that sensationalized singular they (and its users) in order to draw public attention to the organizing bodies. Instead of viewing this event as a milestone towards public acceptance, the group felt that their struggles and hardships had been erased by being symbolically "awarded" recognition. Importantly, they felt that this announcement will do nothing to change the treatment of trans individuals, and will instead only serve to make cisgender people feel good for their effort to socially include gender non-conforming individuals.

Whether this announcement has a positive effect on non-binary communities is yet to be seen. For now, perhaps all we can do is ask: Is this truly a victory for non-binary individuals, or just for those who study gender diversity?

NWAV 44: Best Student Poster Award


I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who stopped by my poster and decided to vote on my behalf, as well as to the NWAV Committee at Penn for sponsoring this award. I would especially like to thank those who stopped by with questions and suggests for furthering this research project; I greatly appreciated the comments.